Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg can’t catch a break.
This time it isn’t a poorly received IPO, a loss in subscribers or even an overhyped product launch that failed to deliver. Instead, Facebook’s and Zuck’s current problems stem from alienating a core group of its followers: environmentalists.
It seems that Zuckerberg — a big-time supporter of President Obama — has perhaps “turned the other cheek” with a series of moves at his newly funded Political Action Committee (PAC). His group recently ran some ads throwing support for TransCanada’s (NYSE:TRP) much maligned Keystone XL pipeline.
That’s not sitting so well with environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, and many are worried protesters could turn into lost users of the site.
See, co-founded by Zuckerberg, advocacy group FWD.us was created to focus specifically on immigration reform. However, it seems to have strayed from the idea. FWD.us recently paid for a TV ad praising a senator’s support of the Keystone XL pipeline, along with one supporting the drilling of Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge.
TransCanada’s project — which was designed to funnel Canadian oil sands crude downward toward refiners on the Gulf Coast — has been fraught with lawsuits, protests and full-on rejections from the Obama administration. Likewise, Alaska and Arctic drilling has been a hot-button issue for various environmental groups, as Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A, RDS.B) has painfully found out.
The issue at hand — according to policy groups — is that FWD.us has basically lied to users, with Zuckerberg pulling a “bait and switch” and using his fortune to bankroll pro-Keystone XL propaganda. Several groups have pointed out instances where he has contradicted himself and the FWD’s recent moves.
Back in 2010 in a Greenpeace blog post, for example, Zuckerman told Facebook followers that the company’s new offices in Oregon “were moving in the right direction” and would go from coal to hydro power. Another example was in Zuckerberg’s op-ed last month in The Washington Post where he said economy of the last century was “primarily based on natural resources” and a zero-sum situation.
All in all, given the general support of Silicon Valley for President Obama and environmental conservation, along with the focus of FWD.us of promoting the “knowledge economy,” it’s easy to see why many environmental and liberal groups are peeved at Zuckerberg.
Heck, many even now think Zuck is actually a closeted Republican, as he has never publicly revealed his political party affiliation. Others think the allure of the almighty dollar has corrupted his thinking. Odds are the Facebook founder and billionaire most likely has a hefty dose of oil and gas stocks in his portfolio.
To be honest, I think there’s a simpler explanation: He probably has really no idea what the PAC is actually doing.
Looking at FWD.us group of sponsors, you see a virtual who’s who of the tech world. Both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Marissa Mayer of Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Eric Schmidt of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are all listed as big backers of the fund.
This doesn’t even include the dozen or so big tech game changers that aren’t as well-known. Quite frankly, I think all of these people may have better things to do — like focusing on running billion-dollar companies — than spend their time at FWD.us.
I’d be willing to bet that the initial funding conversation went something like, “Hey, I’m starting a group to support this. Want to join?”
“Sure, here’s a check.”
To think that the Facebook founder really spends a ton of time on FWD.us daily operations is just crazy.
And even if he did approve the ads, just because you support the pipeline doesn’t all of sudden make you Rush Limbaugh. Perhaps, compromise — on both sides of the aisle — would help alleviate the current political gridlock affecting our nation.
So in the grand scheme of things does Zuckerberg’s supposed political gaff really matter? Not really. I highly doubt that there will be a huge outflow of users due to the story.
Same could be said for the stock. Generally, this kind of things make airwaves for a weeks and blows over. A prime example is retailer Target (NYSE:TGT). A few years ago, the firm backed a pro-business candidate in their home state of Minnesota. It came later that candidate was an outspoken antagonist of gay rights — a demographic Target courts.
The media pounced, the stocked swooned and it seemed bad. A few months later, though, TGT shares surged.
If you’re a believer in the Facebook story and this indeed causes any moves downwards, you should use the opportunity to pick up shares.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt was long RSD.A and RSD.B.