March 14, 2019 / 9:30 PM / 6 months ago

Breakingviews - Facebook's presidential foes are also customers

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks about her policy ideas with Anand Giridharadas at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festivals in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - Facebook’s presidential foes are also its customers. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats running for the White House have turned Silicon Valley into a political punching bag, but their campaigns are big users of Facebook and other online platforms. It reflects the power of tech giants and suggests bashing them may not persuade voters. 

Many Democratic candidates entering the 2020 presidential race have pledged to reject corporate funds. That makes Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms all the more important to them both to get out their message and to raise money.

That explains why politicians like Senator Warren are active on Facebook, which reaches two out of every three adults in America. Her presidential campaign has spent more than $300,000 to advertise on Mark Zuckerberg’s network so far.

She has also been the most forceful voice calling for a crackdown on tech. She says Amazon, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook should be broken up because they have stifled competition and used consumer data for their own profit. Facebook temporarily pulled a few of her ads arguing to break up Big Tech.

Senator Amy Klobuchar is making antitrust one of the cornerstones of her presidential run, calling for stricter privacy and more transparency from Big Tech. She forked over more than $80,000 to reach voters on Facebook.  

Other candidates have been critical of Facebook but haven’t called for its breakup. Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris have each spent at least $300,000 on the social network. On Thursday, Beto O’Rourke jumped in. His campaign spent more than $8 million on Facebook ads in his failed Senate race last fall while President Donald Trump’s committees have doled out about $10 million on his re-election bid.

Beating up on Silicon Valley is not top of mind for voters. Likely Democratic Iowa caucus-goers say they want to hear candidates talk the most about health care, climate change and income inequality, according to a new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

While bashing tech has become a favorite Washington pastime, it may not resonate beyond the Beltway and coastal cities. In a crowded Democratic field, candidates need the reach of Facebook. It’s the 21st century version of politics making for strange bedfellows.


Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.

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