Tech Companies Pushing for Political Influence On All Fronts

March 13, 2016, 9:00 PM UTC
Young adults at a party at the Local 16 bar and restaurant Oct. 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Young adults split their attention between the televisied debate and scanningTwitter on their smart phones during a debate watch party at the Local 16 bar and restaurant October 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. Democratic candidates Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee squared off on the CNN-hosted debate in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla — Getty Images

To see how much more central tech has become to our lives in just eight years, look no further than this year’s presidential campaign. Facebook, Google, and Twitter have increasingly prominent presences at the debates, help voters connect with candidates, and are strategizing behind the scenes to influence both campaigns and the reporters that cover them, David McCabe writes at The Hill.

Tech’s presence at TV debates has been inescapable, with tweets, YouTube stars, and Facebook data constantly shaping and reflecting what candidates do on stage, and even serving as a platform from which to launch the campaigns of ambitious teens. McCabe contrasts that with the 2008 election, when a single debate hosted jointly by CNN and YouTube was an outlier.

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Some tech tools are helping people connect to candidates on a smaller scale, including Facebook notifications that tell people when to vote, and search results that give quicker access to candidates’ positions. Twitter has become a hot place to discuss candidates and debates live and after the fact, and for the candidates themselves to make cultural connections. Some have even criticized the candidates for not catching up to the nuances of social media fast enough.

Further from public view, though, are the lounges and spin rooms that tech brands have built for journalists covering the debates. McCabe describes them as influence chambers where displays show companies’ data, and reps help journalists learn to use social tools in their own coverage—while also being plied with free food and branded swag.

While companies speaking to McCabe described all this in terms of altruistic “civic engagement,” pushing themselves towards the center of the political debate also clearly benefits them. Campaign budgets for digital ads are on their way to going almost literally insane, and Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), and Twitter (TWTR) want as much of that money as they can get.

For more on the election, watch our video.

Tech companies’ growing involvement and influence over voters also translates to more direct political pull and even government contracts. In a Microsoft (MSFT) spokesman’s words, candidates who make it into office after becoming familiar with a company on the campaign trail might someday find themselves asking, “‘Who can help me with tough problems the next time something shows up?’”

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