The Washington Post

Obama brings political message to Facebook, Silicon Valley

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before a dinner with Technology Business Leaders in Woodside, California, in this February 17, 2011 photograph released on February 18, 2011. (HO/REUTERS)

First stop: Facebook, where he will share the stage with CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a town hall discussion on his plan for reducing the deficit.

Pretty wonky stuff for this high-tech crowd, but he’ll be received warmly by a business community that likes his tech-friendly ideas to blanket the country with wireless Internet connections.

The company will stream the event live at 4:45 p.m. EST from its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, and Obama will take previously submitted questions through the Facebook and White House sites.

After the town hall, Facebook will hold two panels with Washington, D.C., and high-tech heavyweights.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg will participate in a Women in Technology panel. It’s not confirmed, but other participants may include Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, and Theresia Gouw Ranzetta, an executive at venture capital firm Accel Partners.

Next, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, will participate in a Startup America panel moderated by AOL co-founder Steve Case. Other participants include SunRun President Lynn Jurich, Facebook VP of Engineering Mike Schroepfer, and Spoondate CEO Raissa Nebie.

Obama finishes the day with a public fundraiser at San Francisco’s Masonic Center and a private dinner for 60 people who paid $30,800 each to meet the president at the home of CEO and cloud computing billionaire Marc Benioff.

Choosing Facebook for Obama’s first major speech in California is notable. The company’s co-founder Chris Hughes left the social network to run Obama’s Web campaign, which became a digital template for politics.

The site has been an important platform to raise awareness of his candidacy and take in donations. For all the talk of the administration’s close ties with Google, he’s going to Facebook’s headquarters to stump for his message on reducing the deficit and the importance of the Internet economy for new jobs and global competitiveness.

Obama has only deepened his ties with high-tech executives since his last run. In February, he attended a private dinner hosted by Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist John Doerr at his Woodside, Calif., home. Attending the dinner were Zuckerberg, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, among others.

Schmidt, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, Cisco CEO John Chambers and many other Silicon Valley titans advise the White House on economic policy and innovation.

But Obama’s decision to deliver his speech at Facebook also comes at a sensitive time for the world’s largest social network. The Federal Trade Commission has investigated its privacy policies, and foreign governments have criticized the company’s sharing of user information with third-party applications. Facebook made corrections and this Tuesday announced new security features for its 500 million users.

The White House earlier this month said for the first time that it believes the nation needs Internet privacy laws to better protect consumers. Privacy groups want any new legislation to limit the collection of personally identifiable information that pinpoints individuals. The FTC also likes the idea of a “Do Not Track” program that would allow users to block Web sites from following their activity online.

Related Stories:

Obama fundraising faces key test in California

Tech firms hiring White House staffers

White House, FTC urge privacy measures for Internet

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.



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