Amazon, Facebook and Google turn to deep network of political allies to battle back antitrust probes - The Washington Post

Amazon, Facebook and Google turn to deep network of political allies to battle back antitrust probes - The Washington Post

Amazon, Facebook and Google turn to deep network of political allies to battle back antitrust probes - The Washington Post

Posted: 10 Jun 2020 03:03 AM PDT

But Espinoza's words, published in September by the Arizona Capitol Times, weren't entirely his own. They were written on his behalf by an advocacy group that's backed by Google and other tech behemoths, reflecting Silicon Valley's stealthy new attempts to shape and weaponize public perception in response to heightened antitrust scrutiny.

Under the withering microscope of government watchdogs, tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Google have funded a bevy of political groups that have helped push positive polling and engaged in other fingerprint-free tactics designed to deter regulators who are seeking to break up or penalize the industry. The approach reflects the growing threats they now face from the Justice Department and the country's top attorneys general, who have been investigating them on antitrust grounds.

The Connected Commerce Council, for example, is a Washington-based nonprofit that bills itself as a voice for small businesses. But it counts Amazon, Facebook and Google as "partners," and in recent months the group known as 3C has put its muscle to work arguing that Silicon Valley giants do not threaten competition, stifle smaller rivals and harm consumers in the process.

Espinoza, a bootmaker by profession, said he was approached by 3C last year after he participated in a Google seminar meant to help small businesses better use digital tools. The advocacy group then wrote the opinion piece largely on his behalf, which appeared online just days after state attorneys general announced their antitrust probe of the company. The opinion piece did not indicate that 3C largely penned it.

Espinoza said he still supported Google, whose technology, including its ad tools now under government investigation, has helped his company reach new customers across the country. But he also said he didn't know about Google's relationship with 3C, a group of which he is a member, before being contacted by The Post this week.

"I'm not surprised," Espinoza said. Google is "a big company … and they have the finances to extend themselves as much as they can."

Jake Ward, the president of 3C, said his organization represents thousands of small businesses, not Silicon Valley's largest players. The organization often seeks to encourage corporate founders to share their views publicly, he added.

"It is our responsibility, on behalf of our small-business members, to protect the existing model and promote the market, which is working exceedingly well," Ward said, later adding: "We are not, and will not work for, Big Tech."

Amazon and Facebook declined to comment. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Julie Tarallo McAlister, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a statement that the company supports "a range of organizations like the Connected Commerce Council that are working to help small businesses grow and prosper online."

Silicon Valley tech giants — and companies across a range of industries — often back a wide array of advocacy groups to boost their political fortunes. They aren't required to disclose how much they spend on these organizations and exactly how involved they are in their day-to-day decisions, but ethics watchdogs say their participation alone is important.

"It is an example of industry spending money and exerting influence, but doing it in a way that is meant to give the impression that it is not coming from industry," said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group.

Bookbinder added: "They wouldn't be members if they didn't agree with the thrust of what these organizations are pushing for."

The tech industry's attempts to shore up its public image in recent months reflect the seriousness of the U.S. government's new antitrust scrutiny. After years of threats, state and federal leaders have embarked on the kind of inquiries that could result in dramatic changes to the way Amazon, Facebook and Google operate, including punishments that could break apart those companies.

All three tech giants deny they have violated state and federal antitrust rules. Still, Justice Department officials are expected to file a lawsuit against Google alleging it violated federal competition laws as soon as this month. Nearly every state's attorney general, meanwhile, could follow with their own complaint in July, The Post previously reported. The antitrust lawsuits come roughly seven years after U.S. officials first probed Google for violating competition law but ultimately decided against bringing a case in court.

With legal action imminent — and President Trump recently taking fresh, aggressive aim at Silicon Valley — the industry's largest companies have shelled out sizable sums to lobby in Washington. Amazon, Facebook and Google have spent more than $11 million combined over the first three months of 2020 to influence federal action on a range of issues, including antitrust, according to ethics disclosures filed with Congress. The amount is slightly higher than the same period in 2019.

But those figures do not reflect the hard-to-track sums spent by the industry to shape public opinion beyond the Beltway. Many in the tech industry privately say they've adopted such tactics because they face an onslaught of criticism from a wide array of new opposition groups, such as the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit that has produced research critical of tech companies including Amazon and Google.

The group does not list its current backers, and it declined to detail them fully Tuesday. In the past it has courted Google's critics, including Oracle, though the campaign maintains it is not taking corporate contributions.

Facebook, for example, already has invested in a forthcoming advocacy group known as American Edge. The organization shares a similar structure to organizations such as the National Rifle Association, which blitzes airwaves with ads and doesn't have to disclose its donors.

The new tech group has sought to enlist support from other tech companies, including Amazon and Google, according to two people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. It is not clear whether either company intends to join. The Post first reported last month on the group's imminent plans for launch.

The tech industry also has sought to funnel dollars to a wide array of conservative groups in recent years, hoping to earn more favor among Republicans in power at the White House and in Congress. That includes the National Taxpayers Union, a right-leaning outfit that typically targets government spending it sees as wasteful.

Last month, the NTU tapped a firm that previously polled for Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to gauge voter sentiment about big tech. They focused their efforts on Arizona, Texas and other states that are actively investigating Google and other companies, and their findings concluded that voters would rather see their attorneys general focusing on other issues, including the opioid epidemic.

The survey explicitly asked if states should punish companies including Amazon and Google, which publicly have acknowledged their past financial support of the NTU. Pete Sepp, the president of the organization, declined to discuss the NTU's donors or the exact reasons it commissioned the poll, though he stressed that he and his organization have worked on competition-related issues for decades.

"We have a huge historical footprint in the antitrust issue space that transcends any tech firm and goes well before their founding," he said.

Such research — seeking to channel public sentiment — is a battle-tested tactic in antitrust probes, former regulators say. It's meant to "press upon public officials, and indirectly upon agencies, that [companies] enjoy broad public support for what they're doing," said William Kovacic, a top professor at George Washington University's law school who previously served on the Federal Trade Commission. "To tamper with them in a significant way is to anger the broader public."

Two years ago, the Connected Commerce Council launched as a voice for small businesses, and Ward, its leader, has grown the organization into an operation that represents more than 10,000 entrepreneurs. The group provides technical support, helping owners and employees use tech tools to place ads, manage their checkbooks and reach new customers online, he said.

The goal was to connect these smaller operators to larger companies, according to Ward, who found that "policy and politics collided pretty quickly on what I was trying to do." In the end, he has found himself defending Amazon, Facebook and Google because it's better for the start-ups 3C represents, he said.

By September 2018, 3C members had sounded off in support of major tech companies during a regulatory proceeding at the Federal Trade Commission. 3C also helped produce opinion pieces, including the one published by Espinoza in 2019. Ward said the work is critical because regulators and readers otherwise never would hear from small businesses.

In more recent months, 3C has amped up its letter-writing campaigns, dispatching missives targeting Texas and other states now investigating large technology companies. Its letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in May, signed by 200 members, even said the state should not penalize Big Tech amid the coronavirus crisis.

"During a pandemic, when many storefronts are shuttered and businesses that are still running are operating entirely online, it is the wrong time to demand changes in digital technology operations and business models," they said.

In doing so, however, Ward has stressed his organization's independence. "We don't lobby on their behalf," he said. "And we're not advocates for their larger positions."

Artists Essentials Toolkit video #2: Getting your art noticed online - ArtsHub

Posted: 21 Jun 2020 04:21 PM PDT


Want your art to be discovered more easily or just think your website is getting lost in the noise? In this video we look at how your art can be promoted through social media and on search engine results pages. We explain how the Google search algorithm works, we look at how you can start your own e-newsletter, and we introduce you to social media marketing.

Useful timestamps:
00:32 - Promote your brand name
01:17 - Using social media
02:40 - The benefits of multi-platform posting
03:39 - Social media marketing
04:50 - The basics of google algorithms
05:51 - Basic search engine optimisation
06:42 - Keyword research
How to get your art online is a co-production of ArtsHub and Creative Victoria.

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which this content was created. We pay our respects to Elders, past and present and future.

Watch: Artists Essentials Toolkit video #1: How to get your art online

Other ArtsHub Resources

Why the words you use count in SEO
A Beginner's Guide to SEO
13 ways to build a strong social media presence
How to social media like a pro
How to make the most of Instagram 

Transcript of video

It's great to get your art online, but if you want to really make it stand out there are some digital skills you need in your publicity toolkit. In this video we'll look at how to promote your brand, the benefits of different social media platforms, the basics of the Google algorithm and how to create content for it, starting your own newsletter and sharing with your artistic community.


Branding is all about what sets you apart from the rest. It's about creating an identity and promoting it within your community.

A quick and easy way to start is with social media. You can promote your artworks, events or latest news, interact as an expert in forums, and present views that will shape your brand identity. Keep it smart and steady. Avoid being a flash in the pan and find that sweet spot between promotion and over-promotion. Be generous and share others' views and discuss their content as well as spruiking your own.

Think of your message as a cohesive and well-styled story told across the appropriate channels.


With so much choice it can be hard to decide on which social media platforms suit you best. Depending on your business needs and target audience, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn can all be great ways to get your work noticed.

Facebook. It's good for telling your story, and videos work well. You could show video footage of mood boards and the resulting work.

Instagram. Posts should be simple, appealing and mobile friendly, or work well on Instagram Stories and Instagram.TV. You could post in-progress shots from your studio to build that anticipation.

Twitter. Twitter is fast and newsy, so make key information direct and clear. Digital postcards are eye-catching options to let people know new works are available.

LinkedIn. Here's where you can post specific, expert, career-oriented information about your new work and emphasise the benefits of interacting with it.

Do your research and consider your needs. You could trial each social media platform for a limited time or until you feel that you are on the right track. Then go with your instincts to choose what works best for you and for your art.

Remember, using social media should be (at least a little bit) fun.


Multi-platform posting is about creating content and re-working it across your social media channels. This keeps your profile active online and helps you grow a larger fan base.  

Managing your social media can become huge and exhausting, so block out 1-2 hours each week to schedule posts in advance (using a tool like Hootsuite or Sprout Social) and allot a limited amount of time every day to checking your social media and responding to comments.

The main thing to remember is that you can't craft one message then just slap it up across all channels.

Each platform has different image specs, different word counts and different formats, so you need to tailor your messages to A) fit within the parameters of the platform and B) be appropriate to how people use it. Even your tone of voice should fit with the platform – more professional for LinkedIn, quicker and snappier for Twitter.


We've talked about social media platforms, but let's go a little deeper into how to use them to market your art and create a community around your brand.

Things to consider include:

  • Which platform. Choose the platform that will best suit what you want to promote.
  • Frequency. Consider the lifespan of a post and post accordingly. Think once a day for Facebook, once or twice a day for Instagram, at least three times a day for Twitter and at least twice a week, at the start of the business day for LinkedIn. Spread your posts throughout the day to account for international audiences too.
  • Consistency. Get known for being consistently engaged and consistently posting high-quality content. Don't post the same thing over and over again, spamming your content means you will lose followers.
  • Hashtags. Look at the hashtags used for similar artists so your work can be found alongside theirs. Create new ones to start a discussion.
  • Maintenance. Take the time to respond to comments from your followers. Comments create an instant dialogue and foster community.


A search engine finds your art based on an algorithm that's always being updated to see how people are finding content online. These algorithms determine if people will find your website using Google search, which remains the most popular way of finding anything on the web.

The algorithms take in factors like the words used in the search, your location, and the relevance and freshness of pages, and crawls over all the pages on the web to serve up the most tailored and accurate results.

It's good to keep these algorithms in mind when you're posting your own content, so people looking for your art will get served your pages. These algorithms also know when pages are being 'keyword stuffed' (by using too many similar words to try and trick that algorithm) and they will rank such pages lower. Google regularly refreshes its algorithms, so if you want to get deeper into this subject, read more on Google's help pages.


Now we're going to look at SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – which just means using the right words so search engines can find your work. It's about naming your content so it's easily found online, and you can do that by boosting it with relevant language.

If you run a theatre group in Melbourne, for example, make sure you use those keywords, theatre, Melbourne, up front in your heading and then lightly peppered throughout your content. Then look at other search terms people interested in Melbourne theatre might use – drama, drama classes, plays, that kind of thing. Relevance will help your site get to the top on Google's results pages.

Don't use vague, irrelevant words. Always keep the user in mind and craft your content so it finds its way to the people looking for it.


The words you use are really important to the algorithm so spend some time working on which ones best describe your arts practice.

Let's say you're a freelance book illustrator. If you were looking for someone like you, what would you search for?

Chances are, other people would search the same way, so see what comes up and which words rank highest on the page. Use this research and use those target keywords wisely within the content on your site. For more indepth analysis and targeted SEO, there are online programs like Semrush out there that will give you suggested keywords to use.

And while we're here, let's talk about advertising. So far we've talked about 'organic reach' – where you've used good SEO or Google algorithms pick up your web pages. The other way is paid reach. You know those listings with the 'ad' appearing at the start? That's a paid search. Paid search like Google Ads or Facebook Ads will give you instant results for as long as you pay for the ads. It can be pricey to get the highest ads especially on popular searches like 'Melbourne comedy' or 'best art galleries'.


E-newsletters are a classic example of digital marketing and a great way to have a direct dialogue with your audience. They are based on email lists that you might collect at each exhibition or show. If you have a website including a sign up for the newsletter link is the perfect way to build up your audience.

Newsletters appeal directly to your audience, much closer than social and you can tailor content to your fans. Could you offer how-to guides or online tutorials about your practice? They can be a great way to let people who are already fans when you have new artwork available and you can involve them in its creation.

Many website builders include newsletter functionality, or you can set up an account with sites like Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor or others if you want to create an email marketing campaign.


Getting active within your artistic community is an excellent way to get your art noticed and foster new networks and connections.

Take part in forums, share knowledge with other artists and reference them with a link back to their site. Similarly, if an artist mentions you and links to your site (a 'backlink'), the ripple effect of awareness starts to happen. It's all part of that idea of being generous with your community.

So these are some of the simple ways that you can get your art noticed. You can mix and match these to suit your work and how much time you want to commit to promotion without taking too much time away from your arts practice.


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