Facebook Founder’s Roommate Chose Kerry Campaign Over Tech Company

By Nick Gass

Apr 20, 2011 5:54pm

ABC News' David Kerley reports:

His college roommate, Mark Zuckerberg, asked Joe Green if he wanted to leave Harvard and move to California to start a company called Facebook. Green decided to chase his passion of political grassroots organizing. So, he said “no” and joined the Kerry presidential campaign. Green is now founder and CEO of Causes, which you may know as “Facebook Causes” a way to get friends to donate to charities. We talked to Green before President Obama held a town hall at Facebook headquarters. We discussed his company and how social media will affect the 2012 Presidential race.


David Kerley: You were (Mark) Zuckerberg's roommate, tell me the story, he basically asked you to come out here and start Facebook didn’t he?

Joe Green: Yeah well we were roommates in college and my background had been in politics and I was trying to convince him to do a political networking site that he was working on Facebook, which was probably the right decision. And had asked me to join up with Facebook but the combination of pursuing my passion of working in politics and working for the Kerry campaign and also we’d gotten into a little bit trouble with the previous project and my father, who’s a professor, was not too happy with the prospect of me getting kicked out of school.

Kerley: What does your father say now?

Green: (laughs) Well, Zuckerberg likes to make fun of my dad for this but we’re still very close, Zuck and I and, you know, Causes works very closely with Facebook and we’ve really been able to pursue the part of the vision of Facebook about empowering people.  And this is the reason that Mark created Facebook was ultimately about how do you fundamentally change the way that humans connect with each other. And they built the Facebook platform to enable folks like us to build sort of specific directions around that and we’ve been able to build the largest—one of the largest applications on Facebook.

Kerley: So you went out and did politics but then you came back and you’re doing what some people call Facebook Causes, really called Causes. What are you trying to do?

Green: So what Causes is about is first and foremost empowering people. We’ve built the largest site for people to come and give and work with their friends to make a difference. And at Causes we believe that altruism and civic engagement are fundamentally social. It’s about people’s identity, about who they are and about working with their friends. We think that everyone has the ability inside of them to make a difference. And a lot of that is about their network, the ability to influence the people around them.

Kerley: Are you the new United Way?

Green: You know, I think the analogy to the United Way is not a bad one in that the United Way helps people to choose amongst different charities. In Causes we’ve built for the first time a massive user base of 150 million people that’s not about one cause but that’s about building a marketplace where you can come and lots of different causes are represented and you can advocate for the ones that you care about and people can have a choice.

Kerley: And already you’ve raised what?

Green: We’ve raised about $40 million for charity.

Kerley: All kinds of charities, how many different charities?

Green: So we’ve raised money for over 50,000 different charities. We have one and a half million charities that you could raise money for on our platform–every US registered 501c3. But over 50,000 have actually had money raised for them. And most of that has not been the charity starting it. A random user has started it, built a community and the charity finds out because they get a check in the mail.

Kerley: Let’s talk politics, which is half of your life I think. Sounds like it. The Obama campaign effectively used social media in ‘08. Here the president is, right after he announces he’s running for reelection, at Facebook. How important is social media to this presidential campaign?

Green: I mean I think that you know social media—I mean we’re talking about Facebook specifically. Facebook is the largest audience built in human history. I mean 600 million plus people and everyone of my generation is spending a lot of time every day on Facebook and it’s a core way of the way we network and communicate.  And so I think that in that way its core to not just the campaign but to everything that everybody does. And you know what we found at Causes is that the way to get people civically engaged, not just during the election but throughout the year, is to tap into Facebook and let them do it with their friends.

Kerley: The Obama campaign got a lot of credit for using social media. The Republicans saw that and tried to catch up. Some organizations say they have. What’s your sense of the lay of the land?  Is it kind of a jump ball now that they are equal and both Republicans and Democrats are effectively using social media?

Green: It’s hard to say what will happen. I mean these technologies are moving so quickly that what happened in 04 is not necessarily all that relevant to what will happen in 2008 because things have changed so much —

Kerley: You mean ‘08 and ’12

Green: Yes, sorry.

Kerley: Let’s try again. So are they even? Are the Republicans and Democrats now even in social media?

Green: I think we’ve seen the Democrats get ahead but I think that there’s no reason the Republicans can’t catch up because so much of the American population uses Facebook.  I mean we’ve seen on Causes that our donors are often 40 or 50 years old. So you know certainly you see a younger demographic supporting Obama at least historically but Facebook users are of all ages and all generations and you know I think we’ve seen a real desire to engage. I think it’s way too early to say that one’s ahead of the other.

Kerley: Is it going to be Facebook, Twitter or is there something that hasn’t been invented yet that’s actually going to make a difference in the 0’12 campaign?

Green:  Well I think we talk about the 0’12 campaign, I mean there’s the presidential campaign but then there’s all of the other elections happening as well. I think Facebook will be the most important because it’s the one that is the most of people’s time. When we talk about social networking we really mean FACEBOOK because they won. There’s really no other relevant representative of peoples identities.  You know Twitter is fundamentally different, Twitter is more of a publishing platform, it’s not a representation of everyone’s identity. I think where you’re going to see the big difference get made is in smaller races. You know because the spotlight will shine on the presidential election no matter what happens. What we’ve seen on Causes is for you know a lot of less known political candidates, they’ve shown a way for them to gain themselves national prominence.  I think a great example of this is Corey Booker, who is the mayor of Newark, NJ who’s become somewhat of a national figure but you know is pretty local.  He is not under election right now but he’s used Causes to –for his birthday using a feature called birthday wish that lets people raise money from their friends on their birthday and he’s chosen an issue in Newark which is building an animal shelter involving people not just in Newark but around the country using Twitter, using Facebook, using a social media presence that he’s built. So I think you see people able to sort of break through to a larger stage by using social media.

Kerley: It wasn’t certainly a factor in ‘08. How important will Facebook and other social media be in 0’12? Will it be much more important than it was in ‘08?

Green: I think that it will be more important because I think that the ability to actually organize—fundamentally what Facebook does is it provides people’s real identities. So if you know who people really are, you can match that up with who they are in the voter registry. So I think there is the ability to do organizing in a more fundamental way through Facebook and actually like gather votes on Facebook.  You’re already starting to see you know both on Causes and other parts of Facebook seeing people building groups around all sorts of different issues.

Kerley: And the Tea Party used Facebook pretty effectively too, didn’t they?

Green: Yeah and on Causes we’ve seen you know lots of causes getting built that are around the Tea Party and around various issues like that.  And I think now that you have these sort of standing communities about various issues the campaigns are going to be able to tap into those communities.  They go ‘ok, well we can go and reach out, you know we have a 5 million-person cause about global warming so we should reach out to those people.’ Or on the Republican side ‘we’ve got this cause about supporting the Tea Party so we should reach out to those people.’ So we’ve got these sort of standing communities, kind of like Causes is kind of like an interest group but except that they are democratically created and sort of grassroots and there are lots of them.  

Kerley: Can you quantify for me how important you think it was in the ‘08 presidential campaign and how important you think social media will be in 0’12? I mean what the difference is? Can you put some kind of sense on that?

Green: I think that in 2008 it was important but not nearly as important as people think it was or as the press talks about it being. Most of the money that was raised by Obama was thru email marketing and was not actually social media. And you know that’s—politics tends to be a bit behind Silicon Valley and so I think we saw social media being useful as a way to generate interest and then the field offices would pull that in. And we saw you know people on Causes who would you know gather people together and then they’d go to Obama events and so on. I think this time around there’s an opportunity for it to play a more integral role. Where you know you’re not just sort of driving people to offsite events, you’re actually going online and saying ‘Hey, you should vote for Obama and I can gather these votes.’

Kerley: A politician ignores social media at their own peril?

Green: Yeah, I mean you can’t ignore it. It’s like ignoring television or ignoring, you know, mail. It’s become such an integral part of people’s lives. I mean people are spending hours a week on Facebook, they’re spending more time than doing almost anything else. So I think you’d be tragic to ignore it.

Kerley: I know you’re connected into Facebook but is there the possibility that something hasn’t been invented yet that’s going to be the killer app in the presidential election?

Green: I think it’s very much possible that there’s something new coming. I think it’s likely that something new will be integrated into Facebook’s platform. We’ve seen — again we’ve seen even with Causes that people will be creating communities that we didn’t expect to be like politically oriented. They’ll use our petition tool to, you know, lobby the president or lobby congress to do various things. Tools will take unexpected directions but I think that because Facebook has become so integral to the way that the internet works and the way—campaigns are about people and how people are connected so I think that it’s hard to imagine it not at least involving Facebook.

ABC's Jon Garcia contributed to this report.

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