On August 30, Donald Trump told a reporter that “many people” think that large tech companies, Facebook and Amazon among them, are “a very antitrust situation.” If you caught the remark, you probably reflected upon the incomprehensibility of Trump’s phrasing and then moved on with your day. However, Trump’s words were a reflection of a larger distrust of Facebook among the conservative community, who are suspicious of shadow-bannings, censorship of Diamond and Silk, and a general perceived anti-conservative bias exhibited by the social media behemoth.
In July, I noted that of Facebook’s donations of $5,000 or more contributed in the 2017-2018 election cycle, slightly over half were made to Republican candidates or PACs. And while publicly, Facebook has displayed a dedication to staunch centrism — as their recent hiring of former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg can attest — behind the scenes, Facebook’s Political Action Committee quietly ramped up its donations to Republican members of the House and Senate. According to quarterly campaign data released by the Federal Elections Commission this week, during the month of September Facebook contributed to 38 Republican politicians and PACs, compared to a mere 20 Democrats. (I made a spreadsheet of the data, which you can access here.
These campaign donations include contributions to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise; Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan’s handpicked successor to lead the Republican Party in the House of Representatives; and a PAC associated with Chuck Grassley, who opened up Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before the Senate in July. Notably, Facebook also donated to the campaigns of, or PACs associated with, Republican Senators Jim Risch, Susan Collins, James Lankford, Tom Cotton, Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, and Richard Burr — six of the seven Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testified in front of on September 5.
Facebook seems genuinely terrified of conservatives being mad about Facebook. In May, the company commissioned the lobbying firm of former Republican Senator Jon Kyl to team with the right-wing Heritage Foundation to form a “conservative bias advising partnership.” And on August 28, The New York Times reported on a wave of dissent among conservative Facebook employees who were upset about what they viewed as a company culture that was intolerant of right-wing views. Despite internal complaints that the employees’ internal discussions were making minorities feel uncomfortable, Facebook did nothing to curtail the group’s activities. The next month, Facebook’s PAC donated to twice as many Republicans as they did Democrats. Go figure.