American Edge

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  • In 2020 Facebook Launched American Edge, A Dark-Money Astroturf Group Designed To Combat Potential Federal Regulations.[1]
  • American Edge obscured its donors by forming as a nonprofit, then launching an affiliated social welfare group that could legally push political messages through advertising and other means.
  • American Edge was formed to oppose antitrust legislation and promote big tech interests amid growing scrutiny of U.S. tech companies and political pressure to implement regulations.
  • Despite presenting itself as a grassroots nonprofit, American Edge was created and funded by Facebook. The tech giant was reportedly “critical” and worked “behind the scenes” to launch American Edge. Facebook even admitted its involvement with the organization. Company spokesman Andy Stone said Facebook was “leading an effort to start this coalition.” Facebook also reported donating to American Edge on its website. Notably, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg setup similar 501(c)4 organizations in the past to promote the company’s interests.[2]
  • American Edge thwarted transparency and declined to name the company’s backers other than Facebook. In May 2020, John Ashbrook, a consultant advising American Edge, declined to name any of the organization’s corporate backers when asked. The group went on to release an August 2020 ad featuring prominent tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Zoom.[3]
  • American Edge Coordinates With Facebook Using Various Strategies Designed To Oppose Antitrust Legislation And Protect Big Tech Interests. American Edge employs a variety of strategies aimed at opposing antitrust legislation and protecting big tech, many of which have been coordinated with Facebook.
    • Advertising has been the most prominent strategy American Edge and Facebook use to promote their message. According to digital ad data from OpenSecrets, American Edge spent $265,000 on Facebook ads about technology policy from September 2020 to June 2021. Wired noted that American Edge and Facebook specifically “pump[ed] ads into the feeds of the DC policy audience” in an effort to influence legislation. According to the Tech Transparency Project, American Edge and Facebook launched an “ad blitz” ahead of Facebook CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress.
    • American Edge and Facebook also coordinated to sponsor newsletters in a variety of publications, including Politico, the Hill, Axios, and Punchbowl News. Newsletters typically allowed sponsors to insert a message of their choice in the digest. During a five-week period in 2021, Facebook and American Edge sponsored a combined 91 newsletters across publications. Notably, the uptick in sponsorships came ahead of Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress.
  • In addition to their coordination on advertising and newsletters, Facebook and American Edge used similar lines of argument to oppose antitrust regulations. Companies like Facebook and organizations like American Edge argued that antitrust reform could hinder U.S. competition with China. American Edge promoted this idea in an October 2021 report, as well as op-eds it dispatched across various publications around the country. Critics called the tactic a “thinly veiled effort to dodge regulation and ward off would-be backers.”