Yesterday, social media giant Facebook released its initial public offering—a step that has investors from Wall Street to Main Street swooning. The IPO is valued at $104 billion, which is a record for a new company.
With this move into the stock market Facebook—which has over 900 million users, one of the most recognizable brand names, and possibly the most recognizable American CEO in Mark Zuckerberg — becomes one of the most powerful companies in the world. And with increased power comes an increased role in politics.
There appear to be three primary ways Facebook has fit into the political arena thus far: Facebook as an outlet for politicians, Facebook as a catalyst for campaigns, and Facebook as an influence on policy.
Firstly, Facebook is a great medium for politicians to reach their constituents and supporters. It can have its disadvantages, such as former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner who inappropriately contacted young women in a sexual manner through it and other media, but it’s mostly a transparent, easily accessible and personal channel for lawmakers to share their opinions.
This leads to the second value of the site for politicians: campaign outreach. Through Facebook campaigns at the local, state and federal levels can organize events, generate discussion, and rally support easier than ever before. Many popular campaign videos garner more views through Facebook than any official website or email list ever generate.
Perhaps the most significant aspect for Facebook within the political realm, however, is the influence it can have on policies and statutes.
For example, several months ago when legislators were trying to pass SOPA and PIPA, bills aimed at curtailing copyright infringement, Mark Zuckerberg publicly denounced the bills as overreaching acts of government. This condemnation (which was joined by other tech savvy companies such as Google and Youtube) spawned more awareness for these bills than any other proposal in recent memory. More importantly, it worked. SOPA and PIPA were subsequently dropped from consideration.
Another instance is Facebook’s involvement with CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Critics of CISPA, which has passed the House of Representatives already, say it is more intrusive towards individual privacy than either SOPA or PIPA. Yet hardly a fraction of the outrage has been voiced by the public. There are several reasons for this, but certainly one of the main reasons is because Facebook supports the act.
Clearly the influence Facebook has on policy is huge; now that it is a public company, you can expect its influence to grow even larger.