Vint Cerf, one of the "fathers of the Internet" who now serves as Google's chief Internet evangelist, argued in an email that this is a natural reaction to lawmakers who produce laws that can harm the tech giants. "In such a situation," wrote Cerf, "one is interested in supporting candidates who are known to be better informed and sympathetic to the conditions these companies face."
But the emergence of a Facebook PAC is worth noting for at least one reason. It's a reminder that Facebook, as well as Google, is a big corporation with corporate interests, when both have spent the last several years reveling in the conventional Washington wisdom that these companies simply are the Internet.
Look back at the last six months alone.
In April, President Obama traveled to Palo Alto to participate in a Facebook "townhall" moderated by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, where both Facebook employees and Facebook users submitted questions for Obama. That session seemed to kick off a bipartisan social media frenzy. In July, Twitter's chairman, Jack Dorsey, was invited to the White House to lead a question-and-answer session where questions for Obama were plucked from the tweet stream. Last Thursday, Google was FoxNews' co-host for the Republican presidential debate. Yesterday, the same day the Facebook PAC news broke, Obama participated in a last-minute forum at LinkedIn headquarters moderated by CEO Jeff Weiner. Also Monday, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg led a morning Q&A session with the "Young Guns," "Republican congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. If Sandberg was tired, that's understandable -- the night before, she and her husband had thrown a $35,800-per-couple campaign fundraiser for Obama at their Atherton, Calif., home.
In all these events (well, save the Sandberg fundraiser -- that you weren't invited to), the lines between Facebook user and Facebook employee, between Google.com and Google Inc. were so blurry as to not exist.
Should these sessions set off more alarm bells? Perhaps. Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn -- these are web platforms that Americans use and enjoy a great deal. But one imagines what would happen were the Obama White House to announce a "townhall" session moderated by AT&T's CEO where citizens could call and ask their president a question (provided that they could get a cellphone connection). People would probably complain; AT&T registers in the public imagination as a corporation, with the usual attendant corporate interests.
Of course, in practice the thing to watch for what sort of candidates Facebook will be channeling money to and which public policies they'll be putting their dollars behind. The company said yesterday that it's too early to say. (A Facebook rep also declined to respond on the record to the idea that maybe Facebook users could pick the candidates and issues through a Facebook poll.) Falling under the rubric of "promoting the value of innovation" that Noyes laid out could be: H-1B visas, STEM education, or even spectrum reform. But what of "mak[ing] the world more open and connected"? That can get tricky. Facebook Inc. and Facebook's 150 million U.S. users might not see eye-to-eye, for example, on the value of the data privacy measures currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.