by Chris White
Facebook spent several million dollars on lobbying efforts over the past few months as the Silicon Valley company’s algorithm changes continue to wallop small media outlets.
The big tech company dropped more than $4 million during the second financial quarter, a record for Facebook up to this point, Washington Post writer Tony Romm noted in a tweet Tuesday. Google and Amazon came in second and third place, as they spent $2.9 million and $4 million, respectively.
All three companies’ lobbying efforts come as Republican and Democratic lawmakers continue to scrutinize Facebook and Google’s death-grip on the tech industry.
House Democrats opened a broad antitrust investigation in June into the tech industry’s power and impact on competition — Facebook in particular is taking heat as lawmakers believe the company is violating people’s privacy rights. President Donald Trump and other Republicans meanwhile argue big tech companies are unfairly censoring conservatives.
Facebook, Google and Amazon’s spending carries on a trend. They dumped a combined $48 million into lobbying in 2018, up 13% from 2017, government disclosures from January show. Google was the biggest spender that year, increasing its lobbying contributions 18% to $21.2 million, while Facebook’s spending grew nearly 10% to $12.6 million.
Facebook’s spending increases also come on the heels of the company’s recent algorithm changes, which are designed to steer users away from explicitly political content and toward online material that is shared by their close friends.
The company updated its News Feed ranking algorithm in May to incorporate data from surveys about who people say are their closest friends. Facebook announced at the time that it’s training new classifiers based on patterns linking these surveys with usage data, effectively redirecting traffic toward close-knit groups and away from clickbait.
Such changes are having an immediate impact on small news outlets that rely on Facebook’s algorithm for revenue.
NowThis News, known for publishing left-leaning content, for example, has seen its combined monthly video views across Facebook and other platforms drop 50%, tumbling from 1.5 billion video views in 2018 to 729 million views in May, according to a report from digital marketing group Digiday. Facebook contributed more than 550 million of the 729 million views NowThis accumulated in May, reports show.
Those numbers are down from June 2018, when Facebook accounted for 1.3 billion views. NowThis has been able to stay afloat, thanks in part to the video publisher’s monthly YouTube views, which went from 7.6 million in June 2018 to 20.5 million in May and from 73.4 million views to 97.2 million views on Twitter over the same period, per Tubular data.
Tech experts say the change is disproportionately hurting smaller outlets. Data scientist Emily Williams told the Daily Caller News Foundation in July that she is surprised at the extent of the carnage. She founded research group Whole-Systems Enterprises and analyzed data for the DCNF showing the changes clobbering conservatives.
When big tech companies switch off the algorithm, it creates a type of butterfly effect on downstream content, particularly for people who don’t have a megaphone, Williams noted. Fox News, NBC and other major media outlets can take the hit when Facebook makes major changes, but smaller entities are disproportionately affected.
Facebook has not responded to the DCNF’s request for comment about its spending.
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Chris White is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.