Op-Ed: It’s Time to Challenge Tech’s Power at the Ballot Box


[Editor’s note: Three days ago, Adriel Hampton, a California-based activist and civic tech professional, filed papers to run for Governor. He has since garnered headlines everywhere because he said he was running, in part, in order to test Facebook’s recently announced policy of not fact-checking political ads. He told CNN Business’s Donie Sullivan that that he planned to use his new status as a candidate to run false ads about President Trump, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and other Facebook executives. He also said that he  plans to run false ads on Facebook about executives of Twitter, which also has a policy of not fact-checking ads run by candidates. Last week, a PAC run by Hampton started running Facebook ads depicting Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as a supporter of the Green New Deal, but those ads were removed since Facebook’s policy does not exempt PACs. Tuesday night, a Facebook spokesman told CNN that it would not allow Hampton to run false ads, stating, “This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking.” Hampton is now threatening to sue Facebook.

People in the civic tech world should recognize Hampton’s name. In 2009, he launched Government 2.0 radio,  and then later ran for Congress, trying to use Facebook and Twitter to build a different kind of campaign, and used crowdsourcing to develop some of his policy statements. For several years after that, he worked for the organizing platform NationBuilder as chief organizer and VP of business development. Hearing of his new effort, I reached out to him and asked if he would share more about what is motivating him to run for California governor. As you will see, while his campaign is obviously a long-shot, it is not just a way of highlighting problems with Facebook’s new ad policy; Hampton has some serious issues to raise about the power of tech platforms in our democracy. We have reached out to our friends at Facebook, which is an organizational member of Civic Hall and partner in our Forums @ Civic Hall program, inviting them to offer their own views on these issues.]

Op-Ed: “It’s Time to Challenge Tech’s Power at the Ballot Box,” by Adriel Hampton

Mark Zuckerberg is a liar. Donald Trump is a liar. Together, they control the most important mechanism for reaching the American electorate in 2020: Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook as a “hot or not” style app that ripped of fellow student’s photos, who has settled the ConnectU lawsuit alleging he stole the idea for a social network, says he started Facebook because of the conversation around the Iraq War.

The Iraq War radicalized me. One of my brothers is a combat vet who suffers from PTSD. Another is a veteran who went through the notorious SERE training that became a model for the U.S. torture programs. He now sleeps rough on a rural mining claim.

The Iraq War radicalized me. The mortgage crisis, in which my family lost the home I grew up in, radicalized me.

I became a Bernie Sanders fan, then a fan of Barack Obama and his 2008 presidential campaign’s amazing digital grassroots political organizing.

In 2009, as a former journalist, I realized that one way to start reforming government was with an inside/out approach that helped opening up the workings of government through open communications. I started a podcast called Gov 2.0 Radio, interviewing everyone from entrepreneurs looking to provide open government software, to public affairs professionals using social media to communicate with the public.

My local Congressperson retired, setting off a special election, and I decided to run on an open government platform in the special election in the former CA-10 district (it has since been redistricted). I quickly learned that what political activists wanted to talk about were the federal issues that were unresolved–the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on drugs. I lost that race badly, but I learned a ton. It was a master class in running for office, as I competed against a large field that included California’s Lt. Governor, who now holds the seat.

Like the majority of Americans, I voted against Donald Trump. As an observer and writer at heart, I have watched in dismay as Trump, the GOP, and the rising corporate state have run roughshod over human rights. I am an expert Facebook political marketer, and have worked with thousands of political campaigns–primarily in my four years at NationBuilder, then as a digital and strategic consultant to dozens of campaigns over the past five years running my own consulting firm.

Thanks to the newsletter Popular Information, I have seen how in the run-up to 2020, Facebook has become more and more biased towards Donald Trump and the Republicans. Towards a campaign that purports to have run millions of Facebook ads already, and expects to spend a billion dollars on the 2020 election.

In 2015, I co-founded a psychometrics data company. We had express ethical screens to not work with anyone who was a threat to democracy or the environment. Zuckerberg is a liar who talks about free speech while taking millions upon millions from an authoritarian political regime, favoring its politicians and its propagandists. This is the greatest threat to U.S. democracy in my lifetime.

I am doing interviews and running political campaigns — both through a federal Super PAC and my California gubernatorial campaign — to fight back. I believe that we will win.