headlines. Congressional inquiries. Corporate apologies.
The heightening scrutiny surrounding Facebook after it
allowed Russian trolls and inflammatory political ads to
spread on its network is the kind of thing companies
would do anything to avoid.
don’t expect it to harm the tech giant’s bottom
the political world looks to apply the lessons of Donald
Trump’s victory to future campaigns, one of the few
clear conclusions is that Facebook played an outsized
role in propelling the candidate to his improbable win.
company’s ability to affordably target hyper-specific
audiences with little to no transparency gives it a
distinct advantage over other forms of media,
researchers and political operatives believe.
ads on Facebook have fueled controversy. They spread
Russian propaganda and reportedly helped the Trump team
suppress black support for Hillary Clinton and aided a
conservative political action committee in targeting
swing voters with scaremongering anti-refugee ads. Yet
the backlash is unlikely to dissuade future campaigns
from relying on Facebook’s advertising platform.
the threat of new regulation governing the disclosure
rules for political ads on social media can’t stunt
the company’s stock price, which continues to reach
anything, the controversies appear to be functioning
like a giant advertisement for the effectiveness of
Facebook’s political advertising business.
don’t lose sleep over Facebook’s business. I lose
sleep over the future of democracy," said Siva
Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the
University of Virginia and author of a book on Facebook
out next year called "Anti-Social Media."
advertising represents a small percentage of Facebook’s
booming $26.9 billion ad business, which accounted for
nearly 15 percent of all the money spent on digital
advertising worldwide in 2016, according to EMarketer.
But it’s growing rapidly.
years of trepidation, campaigns are adjusting to the
fact that audiences are increasingly found online rather
than via TV, radio or print.
spending on digital advertising soared in the 2016
election cycle to $1.4 billion, according to Borrell
Associates, a data tracking firm.
nearly an 800 percent increase from the last
presidential election, when only $159 million was spent
on digital advertising, a category that encompasses
search, display, email, video, social media and mobile.
political spending is expected to rise to $1.9 billion
in the 2018 election cycle and $2.8 billion in 2020, the
main beneficiary of those increasing ad dollars probably
will be Facebook. The social network took $4 out of
every $5 spent on social media in the 2016 election
cycle, said Kip Cassino, executive vice president at
one can brush off or minimize the impact of Facebook on
the 2016 presidential contest, both as a platform for
advertising and as the perfect laboratory for testing
and honing messaging targeted to various voter
blocs," Cassino said.
sea change was first evident with the spread of partisan
news, conspiracies and hoaxes on Facebook during the
news emerged last month that Facebook had sold about
$100,000 in ads to a Russian troll farm. The shadowy
group, known as the Internet Research Agency, placed ads
believed to have been seen on at least 10 million
Facebook users’ news feeds. The ads were aimed at
inflaming divisive social issues such as race, gun
control and gay rights to potentially tip the scales in
has responded to the growing Russian scandal by
cooperating with congressional committees and pledging
more transparency, including requiring buyers of
political ads to disclose their identity and reveal
other ads they’ve run. The company had previously
argued against requiring disclaimers on political ads,
saying it would be impractical — akin to placing
disclosures on small items such as bumper stickers and
disclosures could have sounded the alarm on Russian
don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine
democracy," Zuckerberg said last month.
said it will introduce more transparency in the coming
months, though no details have emerged about how it will
deal with so-called dark posts — ads like those bought
by Russian operatives that have no link to a candidate
or campaign. Instead, they’re designed to
sensationalize wedge issues such as immigration in hopes
of racking up more "likes" and
"shares," giving their backers a larger
audience and more bang for their buck.
STORY CAN END HERE)
groups reportedly placed dark posts on Facebook
referencing the Black Lives Matter movement to inflame
racial tension in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
no law requires such ads to disclose who paid for them,
what other ads or issues they promote, whom the ads were
directed at and for how long. Such information is
readily available on other mediums such as TV to ensure
voters aren’t being misled or manipulated.
democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of
Virginia unveiled legislation this month called the
Honest Ads Act, which would make political ads on social
media subject to the same rules as on traditional media.
the technology companies continue to grow in the
political advertising space, the importance of greater
transparency and disclosure will only grow along with
it," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the
ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee,
who favors regulating political ads online.
is no evidence the Russian ads were linked to the Trump
campaign. But there’s a strong belief in some quarters
that Facebook was a difference maker in helping Trump
take the White House through persuasion and fundraising.
digital team was able to fire up new support and amass
$240 million in small donations, mostly through Facebook,
at a cost of $94 million. That’s about 20 percent
better than a typical return on investment in digital
campaigns, industry officials said.
STORY CAN END HERE)
understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was
going to win," Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s
digital director, told CBS’ "60 Minutes"
this month. "Twitter is how he talked to the
people. Facebook was going to be how he won."
even said Facebook embedded Republican employees in the
Trump campaign to help them maximize the platform’s
potential. Facebook reportedly offered the same level of
support to the Clinton campaign but was turned down.
did not reply to requests for comment.
Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington
University and author of "Analytic Activism:
Digital Listening and the New Political Strategy,"
said it would have been fair to refuse Facebook’s
assistance based on the social network’s performance
in the 2014 election cycle.
by 2016, Facebook’s data were exponentially more
robust and precise at prospecting for would-be
supporters and donors. The Trump team took a chance.
sounds like Facebook went to both campaigns and said
they had magic beans," Karpf said. "The
Clinton team said, ‘We’ll pass, we’ve seen the
returns,’ and Parscale and the Trump team said, ‘Magic
beans? Take my money.’ We can call it dumb luck or
stumbling into innovation."
response from both parties, despite the likelihood
voters were manipulated by a foreign nation state, will
be to spend more on the world’s biggest social network
and other social media platforms.
certainly hope Democratic campaigns spend more on
digital advertising this cycle but not because of
Russia," said Patrick McHugh, executive director of
Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC. "It’s
just the smart thing to do if you want to win