Why Zuckerberg’s Lobby Is Collapsing Like A House Of Cards Outside Of DC

Posted: May 12, 2013 in Government, GT

“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about
location, location, location.” — Frank Underwood,
House of Cards At this very moment, Mark Zuckerberg’s political
lobby, FWD.us, is probably taken aback at how
reviled it has become, both from the public and its
own members. After all, there are countless political
technology lobbies, including Facebook’s own
Political Action Committee, which routinely offer Republican candidates campaign cash for quid pro quo political favor. So, why, after discovering FWD.us indirectly supporting the controversial Keystone
Pipeline initiative, have would-be supporters flooded
their Facebook page with scathing comments, and its
A-list supporters, such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, ditched
the group? Unlike other lobbies, FWD.us burst on to the scene
with a very public op-ed from its celebrity founder,
promising to galvanize the latent civic passions of
Silicon Vally’s netizens in a noble crusade to advance
the knowledge society. While one hand extended
towards grassroots supporters, the other reached into its wallet pocket and discretely doled out funds to
controversial candidates. There’s a reason most lobbies don’t bother with
grassroots activism: communities don’t get excited
about the kinds of soul-crushing moral compromise
necessary in DC politics. So, when FWD.us rolled up
with millions in hand claiming to be the voice of the
technologists, those who felt misrepresented freaked out. Even more confusing, when confronted, FWD.us
chose to do something no other major organization in
technology has done: it remained silent. Even the
notoriously tight-lipped Apple holds a press
conference after public uproar. Californians haven’t been become jaded to the kinds
of secrecy common for Wall Street banks and
campaign SuperPACs. The unfazed backdoor
dealings caricatured in Netflix’s (addicting) House of Cards series may work for lobbies based in our nation’s capitol, but Californians evidently won’t
tolerate it in their backyard. “I revised the parameters of my promise.” – Frank
Underwood Twitter co-founder Evan Williams tweeted a link to a
scathing blog post from former Twitter employee Josh
Miller, explaining, “In service of noble causes, FWD.us is employing
questionable lobbying techniques, misleading
supporters, and not being transparent about the
underlying values and long-term intentions of the
organization. More discouragingly, the leaders of the
technology industry (and of FWD.us) have built their careers on bringing meaningful change to the world.
They should be doing the same in Washington.” FWD.us would-be grassroots supporters agree, “Will
Fwd.us prostitute climate destruction & other values
to get a few engineers hired & get immigration
reform?”, wrote one commenter on their Facebook
page. Folks in San Francisco had a sense that FWD.us
understood technologists’ natural aversion to
Washington culture, “People in tech have often felt a
cultural disconnect from the political process, which
is a shame considering we are naturally idealistic,”
went a press release of FWD.us’s launch last month. True to their word, unlike any other lobby, they were
building tools for grassroots activism, with the
audacious aim of bottling the rare Internet flash mob
protests that brought down the entertainment industry-
funded, Stop Online Piracy Act, and helped
smartphone taxi service, Uber, overcome the Washington DC regulators. But, unlike Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is actually
planning a social media campaign to push for
Immigration reform, FWD.us’s grassroots promise is
nowhere to be found. “There’s a value in having secrets.” – Frank
Underwood Like many of us at TechCrunch, tech luminaries have
been begging FWD.us for a hint of transparency, “It’d
be easier to believe that FWD.us will be a positive
force if we knew the full breadth of its agenda,” wrote
popular blogger and entrepreneur, Anil Dash.
Unfortunately, they refuse to talk to anyone. Even at our own Disrupt conference, Director Joe Green didn’t
(or couldn’t) be interviewed, instead opting for a
generic story about the value of immigration reform. See, their strategy feels like patronizing, as though us
overly-idealistic Californians can’t possible deal with
the realities of DC politicking. As Dash concludes, not
only can we handle the truth, we’re begging for a dose
of reality, if it’s the best way forward, “It’s already clear that with FWD.us, the tech industry
is going to have to reckon with exactly how real the
realpolitik is going to get. If we’re finally moving past
our innocent, naive and idealistic lack of engagement
with the actual dirty dealings of legislation, then let’s
try to figure out how to do it without losing our souls.” “Friends make the worst enemies.” – Frank
Underwood What have been the results?–near unanimous
condemnation from ever corner of Silicon Valley. Just
last week, superstar innovator Elon Musk, made a
very public departure, after a list of environmental
groups, including the Sierra Club, boycotted
Facebook over FWD.us-funded ads that praised Republicans for supporting the Keystone pipeline
(below) Ironically, the group can’t post a single update on
Facebook without being flooded with angry
comments. Just 18 hours ago, after FWD.us posted
about a congressional immigration hearing, 50% of
the comments are about Keystone, “How can you
justify completely selling out on he keystone pipeline in order to further your own immigration agenda? This
is politics at its worst.” In other words, FWD.us poisoned its only mechanism
for grassroots activism: social media. Forget Twitter,
forget Youtube, forget Tumblr. Every conceivable
social platform permits open dialog, which has now
become the bane of their existence. A Way FWD (Pun Intended) When we first wrote about FWD.us, the reader
comments were largely positive. Most readers
(including myself) were excited to see what a team of
technology titans could accomplish. But, since then,
the suspect secrecy is killing their trustworthiness. Their calculation is clear: a win on immigration reform
will absolve their sins. They’re wrong. Since they’ve
chosen to mimic other lobbies, their accomplishments
will be indistinguishable. So, each of their investors
could just as easily fund a tech lobby employing the
same tactics without the public heat. Personally, I like the organization and its mission. We
routinely advocate for many of the same issues and
carry the voices of their partners. But, evidently,
FWD.us underestimated just how little tolerance their
supporters have for compromising the value of
truthfulness. I understand the consequences of writing this piece:
when Joe Green eventually does speak, it certainly
won’t be with me. But, until then, I’ll leave them with
one thought. If FWD.us is so committed to traditional
DC politics, perhaps they should also take Frank
Underwood’s advice on transparency, “There is no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than a flood
of naked truth.”

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