Do Amazon and Google Shape Information to Advance Their Legislative Agenda?

March 31, 2022

The meeting in which it was decided to fund the Connected Commerce Council must have been fun: High fives, snorts of laughter, and derogatory comments perhaps? CNBC, a most interesting source of real 21st century news, published “How Google and Amazon Bankrolled a Grassroots’ Activist Group of Small Business Owners to Lobby Against Big Tech Oversight.” This is not a high school essay about “How to Make a Taco.” Nope. If true, the write up explains how two companies funded an information management campaign. I would describe this a weaponized propaganda, but I live in rural Kentucky and I am luck if I can remember where I left my bicycle. (Answer: in the garage.)

The write up explains:

The Connected Commerce Council, which pitches itself as a grassroots movement representing small business owners, is actually a well-financed advocacy group funded by tech heavy hitters Google and Amazon.


Here’s the newsy bit:

Lobbying watchdog group the Campaign for Accountability called 3C an “Astroturf” lobbying organization, thanks to the tech giants’ financial support. That’s a bit of Washington slang for a group that claims to represent grassroots entities, but in reality serves as an advocate for big industry. It’s a tactic used in Washington to push for specific legislative or regulatory goals using the sympathetic face of mom and pop organizations. The Campaign for Accountability described 3C in a 2019 report as an “Astroturf-style front group for the nation’s largest technology companies.”

Let’s think about the meeting or meetings which made it possible for two big outfits conclude that weaponizing content was a peachy keen idea. Some questions:

  1. When will the regulators emulate their European brothers, sisters, and thems and make meaningful steps to deal with cute weaponizing plays like this one?
  2. Why do executives sign off on such content manipulation — excuse me, I mean public interest messaging? Confidence in their ability to let loose flocks of legal eagles, a “hey, why not” attitude, or a belief in their own infallibility. (CNBC is not exactly Bellingcat, right?)
  3. Is it a disconnect between ethical behavior and high school science club insouciance?

These are good questions, and I don’t have answers.

The write up includes this remarkable quotation from a Connected Commerce big wheel:

In a statement to CNBC, Connected Commerce Council Executive Director Rob Retzlaff said all of the group’s members “affirmatively sign up – at events, online, or through a personal connection – and thousands have opened emails, responded to surveys, attended meetings and events, and communicated with legislators.” Retzlaff said, “I sincerely hope you do not (a) mischaracterize our efforts or the views of small businesses by suggesting we are an astroturf organization that puts words in people’s mouths, or (b) use outdated membership information to distract readers from legitimate concerns of small businesses and their engagement with policymakers.”

I like the “sincerely hope.”

Read the original. I think the article is a thought starter.

Oh, one more question:

Why didn’t Google just filter search results to add sauce to the Max Miller recreation of Genghis Khan’s fave little meat cakes? Low profile and the perfect explanation: The algorithm makes its own decisions.

Sure, just like the people in the meeting that concluded disinformation and propaganda to preserve the nifty cash machines that make astroturfing useful.

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2022


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