Facebook Woos Washington

The Daily Beast

Obama hosts a town-hall at Facebook headquarters today, a sign of the social media giant’s growing political power and its oddly symbiotic relationship with the president—he needs Facebook for reelection, it needs him to stay in Congress’ good books.

When President Obama visited with some Silicon Valley big shots in February, the tech blog Business Insider ran a photo of the president chatting with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Below the photo, a commenter called “pauldeba” posted: “I gotta say,

it must feel impressive meeting the most powerful man in the world. I wonder how Obama feels about it.”

Think about it. Zuckerberg’s company has 600 million members, making it about twice as big as the United States.

So the true significance of Obama’s visit Wednesday to Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, won’t involve anything the president says. Simply by doing this event, a town-hall meeting that will be broadcast on the Internet, the White House is recognizing Facebook’s growing power and influence in politics and the culture at large.

What TV was to John Kennedy, Facebook is to Obama. Social media in general, and Facebook in particular, have become so important to politics that you almost can’t run for president without mastering the new medium.

The event also reflects the way that Facebook, from the very beginning, has learned how to curry favor in Washington. Unlike tech giants Microsoft and Google, which shunned Washington and refused to play the game, and as a result ended up in hot water with regulators, Facebook recognized the need to build bridges with lawmakers early on.

One of the smartest things Zuckerberg ever did was to bring aboard Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, who will play co-host during the Obama town-hall meeting. Sandberg came to Facebook from Google, but before that she was a power player in D.C., serving as chief of staff under Larry Summers during his tenure as secretary of the Treasury. She’s now a member of the recently formed President’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness.

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