What’s Wheeler Reading? Social Media @ FCC

Lots of people would like to know what’s on the mind of the FCC chairman. Thanks to Facebook, we know that chairman Tom Wheeler was reading about Chinese electronics maker Huawei’s plan to abandon the U.S. market, amidst accusations that it is a Chinese government front, not to be trusted.

A link to “Foreign Policy” magazine’s website’s story appeared on Wheeler’s Facebook page just after 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2 without comment.  Perhaps the chairman was reading the story during his trip home from Columbus, where he delivered his first major public policy speech  earlier in the day at his alma mater, The Ohio State University.

The Facebook posting may have been a fluke. The chairman may have clicked the wrong icon on the “Foreign Policy” screen and merely intended to bookmark or email the article to some friends (although on the FP interface, the Facebook and Mail buttons are not adjacent).   Wheeler is not a regular Facebook user (only about 290 “friends”); his last personal posting there was about a year ago.

When I checked with Wheeler’s office, his assistant said that the chairman plans to use social media widely, not just the FCC’s own blog and Twitter sites.  On the same day as the Facebook posting, the chairman’s Twitter account was featuring the Ohio State speech as was Wheeler’s FCC blog,  which also plugged his free ebook, “Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities” -- the theme of his OSU speech.

Whether Wheeler’s Facebook link to the Huawei story is a one-time aberration or the beginning of more frequent communiqués to friends, the incident underscores the growing role of social media and the melding of business and real life. 

Among Wheeler’s inner circle at the commission, several individuals are my long-time personal connections.  Gigi Sohn, the chairman’s special counsel for external affairs, has about 1,500 Facebook friends and has remained vocal since she joined the FCC last month. Most of her recent posts are about family and friends plus some commentary about music. Two weeks ago she posted “the irony of my spending the past several days defending an FCC rule that would allow airlines to permit in-flight phone calls” – noting that she is a longtime Amtrak quiet car “super-nag.”

Philip Verveer, senior counselor to the chairman, told me yesterday that he is too old for Facebook, but I noted that he is in the “500+” category of Linked-In connections.  Four years ago when Verveer became Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Communications and Information Policy, he told me that his State Department orientation briefing included recommendations not to take part in social media.

Certainly, public officials deserve a private life and can choose what if anything they want to share via social media. For those who are “friends” with such policy-makers, the postings – if any – may offer a glimpse of what’s of interest to them (probably no surprises to true friends).  As scores of professional and amateur sociologists are analyzing the situation, everyone is figuring out how social media interleave personal and professional lives.  

And as Wheeler’s ping about Huawei reminds us, sometimes we may read too much into a click.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.