Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg is taking heat from users over his political advocacy organization’s funding of political TV ads supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The “pro-immigration” advocacy organization, Fwd.us, was founded by Zuckerberg, along with other tech industry players Bill Gates and Linkedin co-creator Reid Hoffman. The two advertisements at the center of the debate relate to two political figures: Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who had voiced support for both the proposed pipeline and for arctic drilling.
While not funded directly by Fwd.us, the two organizations who ran the commercials — Americans for Conservative Direction and the Council for American Job Growth — are subsidiaries of Fwd.us. For environmentalists, the line of support from Zuckerberg to Graham is too close for comfort.
What is Fwd.us?
Fwd.us is advertised as a pro-immigration reform organization, though its tagline — “Moving the knowledge economy forward” — sheds light on a potentially broad scope of causes it may support.
In the organization’s About Us section, it defines its role in the immigration debate as one rooted in the foundation of keeping the U.S. “competitive in a global economy”:
“Fwd.us believes the global economy is changing and America must make significant changes to stay ahead. We will work to encourage Congress to focus on policies that maximize the potential of our country’s workforce to contribute to the knowledge economy.”
Environmental activists discovered just what that meant when they learned the organization is throwing money at ads that promote construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Fighting Facebook with Facebook
A new Facebook meme typifies the irony of the controversy surrounding the social media giant’s CEO, calling on all users of the site to “push back” against the 28-year-old for the TV ads, using Zuckerberg’s face as a backdrop for the graphic.
While the meme remains, Zuckerberg’s company has rejected an advertisement directly targeting his involvement with Fwd.us. The ad was submitted by CREDO Mobile, an outspoken left-leaning tech company, and included an image of the 28-year-old’s head, along with the statement, “Hey Zuck, pull your ads supporting Keystone XL.”
The ad was officially rejected under the premise that it used Zuckerberg’s face, a violation of Facebook policies. Facebook said in a statement:
“… In our experience those ads tend to be confusing for users, and frequently misleading. Users may click on the ad thinking it is a message from Mark or from Facebook, not understanding that they are actually in an advertisement seeking to take advantage of Mark’s image.”
CREDO is calling the company’s bluff, claiming the rejection was based on politics and Zuckerberg’s ties with Fwd.us.
“The people on Facebook who made Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire need to know that he is using his fortune to bankroll pro-Keystone XL propaganda,” CREDO political director Becky Bond told Fox News.
On Wednesday, protesters gathered in front of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., to show support for CREDO and opposition to Zuckerberg and his organization.
A CREDO petition to Zuckerberg and the Fwd.us team to overturn support for lawmakers and advertisements promoting Keystone XL and drilling in the ANWR had garnered 19,141 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
The petition calls out the founders of the organization, saying, “These leaders claim to be in favor of efforts to combat climate change.” In 2010, Zuckerberg was applauded by Greenpeace after he made the decision to move the company’s data centre in Oregon off coal power.
In a Sept. 16 Facebook post, Zuckerberg said, “Some of the old data centers we rent use coal but most are already green. The newer ones we’re building from scratch in Oregon use hydro power from dams. We’re moving in the right direction here.”
The heart of the debate
At the forefront of the debate is a television ad promoting Sen. Graham. While directly funded by the right-leaning Americans For a Conservative Direction organization, that organization is a subsidiary of Fwd.us.
The ad depicts Graham as the right choice for South Carolina’s Republican base, touting his history of opposing President Barack Obama on everything from Obamacare to drilling in the Arctic. Graham also mentions Obama’s “No Keystone” stance, which reflects his delay of the pipeline decision, a move intended to provide time for “environmental review.”
An ad supporting Sen. Begich highlights his support for drilling in the ANWR and a proposed Alaskan pipeline. That advertisement is supported by the Council for American Job Growth, another subsidiary of Fwd.us.
The advertisements have had nothing to do with immigration reform — yet Graham has been a vocal opponent of just that. Supporting Graham wholeheartedly, however, has put Zuckerberg in a tough spot among those who once looked at the social media guru as a leader in the environmental community.