As Silicon Valley's increase in official lobbying shows, the days when the tech world was seen as and tried to behave as an apolitical force are over.
Take immigration. Zuckerberg's lobbying organization, FWD.us., has been hit with criticism from environmentalists and liberal Democrats for funding ads that supported drilling in Alaska and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. They also funded a subsidiary group, Americans for a Conservative Direction, which bought ads designed to court conservative support for immigration reform. It's impossible to tell how much the organization's efforts contributed to the passage of the immigration bill in the Senate, but at least in the media, reactions to their efforts seemed overwhelmingly negative. In the end, this Silicon Valley intervention in the immigration debate has ended up seeming just like every other effort to influence the political process: difficult and filled with compromise.
It's hard, or at least expensive, to just spend one's way to a deal in a highly partisan environment. A deeper, more lasting way of exerting influence in Washington is to find people who see problems the same way Silicon Valley does.
And that's why tech honchos love Booker.
As Sarah Ross, a principle at Waywire, said in the Times story, "'Social media is a movement... and Cory Booker is a leader in this movement.'" This last word -- movement -- is the most important one: Booker represents and advocates a mindset about technology and social engagement that is in lockstep with the broader ideology behind Silicon Valley.
With 1.4 million followers on Twitter and more than 30,000 tweets, Booker is definitely big user of social media. His Twitter account is the stuff of legends (see the Chuck Norris-like tales of #CoryBookerStories), and he seems to have a knack for doing stuff that will explode on the Internet. Saving a woman from a burning building? Check. Shoveling constituents' yards in winter following tweets of distress? Check. Banning Conan O'Brien from the Newark airport on YouTube after O'Brien dissed the city on his show? Check.
But Booker doesn't just engage with social media; he preaches it as a way to fix the problems in politics. Here's part of what he said during an interview following his speech at SXSW this spring:
The people that are most active on pieces on legislation are the people who have interests in it, and often interests that are self-interests and special interests. If you don't have to filter your media through MSNBC [and] Fox... you can go directly to the people. When it comes to a complicated, controversial issue, you can talk to them about it, learn from them, but more importantly, motivate people to act around that issue.
There's an overlap between Booker's way of looking at social media and the ideas that drive tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook: Encourage people to connect and share; make information more accessible; provide platforms for regular people with an Internet connection to make their voices heard. Of course, these ideas also help tech companies make money -- the more people who use social media and search engines, the more revenue companies make from ads.