Mark Zuckerburg's forays into political action aren't proving to be successful. After launching on April 11, Zuckerberg's lobbying group FWD.us has managed to quickly anger allies and lose support from key donors.
As the organization defines itself, "FWD.us is an organization started by key leaders in the tech community to promote policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy — including comprehensive immigration reform and education reform."
While that idea has been quick to garner support from techies, the reality of how that policy has come into play has been problematic. In order to get support from key Republicans, FWD.us has already waded into other issues, putting out TV ads supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge much to the anger of progressives.
Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) commented on FWD.us' actions, saying, "Leaders in the technology community have every right to talk about how immigration reform will benefit their businesses, but instead, FWD.us has chosen a strategy that’s condescending to voters and counterproductive to the cause of reform."
The former senator was part of a broader coalition of progressive organizers including Progressives United, MoveOn.Org, Democracy for America, CREDO, Daily Kos, The Sierra Club, The League of Conservation Voters, 350.org, and Presente.org. Although many of these organizations are allied with the cause of immigration reform, they have had their interested hurt by FWD.us's organizing tactics.
Even some FWD.us donors have left the cause, including Elon Musk and David Sacks. Musk said regarding his departure, "I agreed to support Fwd.us because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes. I have spent a lot of time fighting far larger lobbying organizations in D.C. and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause."
In its blatant support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, FWD.us illustrates that Silicon Valley successes are not always the best qualified when it comes to policy, as they managed to not only divide both progressives and their own donors within a month of launch, but did so for a cause that the scientific community is largely against, despite FWD.us's lip service to STEM education.
In addition, the demographics of FWD.us illustrate that the Silicon Valley idea of a diverse group is rather stereotypically male-dominated. Out of their 13 listed founders, there is only one woman. Our of their 23 listed supporters, there are only four women. Despite that obvious gender gap they describe themselves as, "A diverse group of leading innovators, job creators, business owners, and founders from the tech community."
While Silicon Valley loves to talk about a meritocracy where the best product or solution wins, FWD.us looks much more like an old boys club engaging in politics as usual, and much less like an innovative solution to a tough political problem. While they repeatedly state on their Facebook page that the "the tech community is uniting around immigration reform," they lack policy specifics, can't boast any type of coalition work outside the tech community, and speak in generalities that don't indicate where they stand on rights for undocumented students (some of whom studied in the STEM fields FWD.us also supports), bi-national LGBT couples, the low income workers who support our food industry (techies gotta eat too, right?), families of immigrants (does that engineer have a mom who wants to live closer?), and more.
Maybe FWD.us will internalize these lessons and pivot to a better strategy like many of their supporters' companies, but if not Mark Zuckerburg's current work in the political arena seems to be causing more problems than it's fixing.