Meta Drops Hunt for Democrat as Top Lobbyist, Keeps Republican
(Bloomberg) -- Meta Platforms Inc. has abandoned its search for a Democrat to lead its U.S. public policy team, keeping Republican Kevin Martin in the role as the company formerly known as Facebook tries to distance itself from recent controversies and shape the next iteration of the internet.
Meta had been looking for a Democrat to balance the ranks of Republicans leading the social media giant’s lobbying shop. Martin, who was head of the Federal Communications Commission under former President George W. Bush, had been tapped to lead the company’s global economic policy team.
The company “made a determination that we are appropriately staffed to handle our U.S. public policy needs and Kevin will continue in this role,” said Meta spokesman Andy Stone. The Information, an online technology newsletter, earlier reported on the news.
Meta’s recent rebrand gives the company a new corporate name over its photo-sharing service Instagram and social network Facebook, and emphasizes its plans for a virtual reality space known as the metaverse where people can work, socialize and shop via avatars. The new name was announced shortly after whistle-blower Frances Haugen, a former product manager, shared internal documents alleging that Facebook understood -- but didn’t disclose -- risks associated with its platforms.
Meta’s Washington office includes Democrats like Brian Rice and David Ginsberg, both former aides to John Kerry with ties to the Biden administration. The company also recently hired John Branscome from the Democratic staff of the Senate Commerce Committee. But the team reports to Republican Joel Kaplan, the global head of public policy, who has faced criticism for catering to the Trump administration and softening content moderation of conservatives.
Elected Democrats have criticized Facebook in recent years for the way the platform has been used to host racist hate speech, right-wing extremist content and misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and U.S. elections. Congress is also investigating how the social media company fails to protect its youngest users and damages teen mental health.
But the balance of power in Washington could look different after next year, with Republicans well positioned to take one or both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections. That would scramble the outlook for new tech-focused regulation, while giving GOP-led committees the chance to pursue their own investigations of online platforms. Republicans have complained that Facebook censors conservatives and they opposed its decision to suspend the account of former President Donald Trump.
Katie Harbath, a Republican strategist who left her role as Facebook’s policy director in February and now leads her own consulting firm, said Martin will have to think about the broad range of issues facing Meta in Washington, including antitrust challenges, spectrum issues, proposals for new regulation and explaining to lawmakers what the metaverse is.
“The challenge for someone in a role like what Kevin’s going to do is that you need to be thinking about and planning for the technologies that are going to be more prevalent five to 10 years down the road, in addition to responding to the controversies of the day,” Harbath said.
Martin, who has been at Facebook since 2015, brings experience to the job that’s hard to match, according to Nu Wexler, who worked with Martin in the company’s Washington office before leaving Facebook in 2018 and now works at strategy shop Seven Letter.
“They still have to navigate a Democratic administration, but no one knows Facebook policy issues better than Kevin,” Wexler said.
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