FWIW: The platform self-regulation dumpster fire 🔥

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8 mins read

Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.

With Twitter finally announcing its political advertising policy last week, Google’s terrible decision on Wednesday to take away campaigns’ ability to reach voters, and Facebook considering major changes as well, this week was a bit of a dumpster fire for campaign strategists and digital media practitioners alike. We’ll take a brief look at what went down with the different social media platforms in this week’s FWIW.

But first… 

2020, by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has now spent over $28 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the 2018 midterm elections. His digital ad spend increased significantly last week, ramping up with fundraising and email acquisition ads advocating for Rep. Adam Schiff to resign, and his team even began selling new “Bull-Schiff” swag online. 

On the Democratic side, Mayor Pete found himself surging to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire last week – and that quickly made him an obvious target for other candidates and campaigns. He was hammered online for using an African stock photo and for an old Instagram post by his husband at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. 

That’s why we fully expected him to be attacked hard at Wednesday night’s debate, but he came out just fine, and he maintains his lead as the top spender on Facebook + Google among the frontrunners for the nomination. 

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign continued running dozens of ads touting more of her…plans 📚. For months, her campaign has pretty consistently put digital dollars behind every plan she releases:

FWIW, here’s the cumulative digital spending over time of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination: 

Mike Bloomberg might have officially filed to run for president, but his promised $100 million anti-Trump digital ad campaign doesn’t seem to have materialized yet.  ⏰He spent just $38,000 on a couple anti-Trump Facebook ads since last Friday. 

…and these are the top political ad spenders on Facebook + Google from November 10th – 16th. 

Thanksgiving may be just around the corner, but that hasn’t stopped the Trump campaign from rolling right ahead into the Christmas season anyway. They’re heavily advertising Trump-themed Christmas toys, Santa hats, red cap ornaments, wrapping paper, and other branded merch, because spending the holidays with your family wasn’t already awkward enough. They also accidentally advertised Christmas sweaters that seemed to read “KEEP AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”, but tragically, the KAGA sweaters aren’t actually for sale on their site. Wonder why? 🤔

Deep Dive: The platform self-regulation dumpster fire 🔥🗑

Last Friday, Twitter finally released its policy banning political advertising on its platform, and the New York Times took a quick look at “the Twitter ads that weren’t.” We’ve mentioned before that Twitter ads were never really a big thing in politics, but their policy change set off a high-stakes chain reaction.  

On Wednesday night, Google announced they would severely limit ad targeting for political organizations and campaigns on its platforms. We had lots of thoughts. Campaigns can no longer upload lists of voters, or even target on any criteria other than age, gender, zip code, and “contextual targeting.” That means that campaigns and organizations will be spending much less efficiently on sites like YouTube and Google’s other properties, reaching unintended audiences with ads less relevant to their interests.

It also means that campaigns cannot even upload their lists of supporters who have raised their hands to support their candidates to reach them with relevant content or calls-to-action any longer. It’s important to state the obvious here: by taking away the ability to serve specific audiences content that is most relevant to their values and interests, Google stands to make a lot MORE money off of campaigns, as we’ll have to spend more to find and reach our intended audiences.

What is so outrageous about Google’s change is that it’s clearly a PR move unrelated to the actual problem of misinformation on their platform – they’ll still allow the Trump campaign to outright lie in their advertising. 🙄

Now, rumors are swirling that Facebook may make similar moves. That would be an enormous mistake, and as we’ve said before, would disadvantage Democrats in an immeasurable way. Unlike Google however, Facebook has been actively reaching out to and listening to actual political advertisers on its platform, which is a very encouraging sign that they may get this right. 

Don’t get us wrong though, we’re NOT encouraging platforms maintain the status quo. There IS something that can and should be done immediately: platforms should immediately follow Snapchat’s lead and commit to fact-checking every paid political ad that moves through their platforms. These companies have a responsibility to remove hate-speech and curb misinformation from spreading on their platforms, and that’s where our policy advocacy should focus on.

There are so many practical ways to go about solving for this critical issue, not to mention these powerful platforms’ responsibility to address it, so if anyone at Facebook wants to hear some of our ideas, our DMs are open… 🙋🏽

Special new #FWIWPod alert 🎙

To give you some extra holiday listening materials next week, we went ahead and dropped episode four of the FWIW podcast a week early – and it’s a big one.

Our CEO Tara McGowan sat down with James Barnes and Tatenda Musapatike – former Facebook “embeds” who worked in the 2016 election with campaign teams on both sides of the presidential race to talk about what they learned while working at the world’s most powerful social media giant. Plot twist – they’re BOTH working at ACRONYM now and you really, really want to hear this conversation. Give it a listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at fwiwpodcast.com.

One more thing… ➡️ 🎧

That’s all for this week – and we’ll be taking next week off for Thanksgiving. But before you go, we have one more ask of you! ⚡️If you enjoy reading FWIW each week, you’ll love the new FWIW Podcast! Give it a listen, spread the word + leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review on Apple Podcasts! 

Originally posted on Another Acronym. Re-posted with permission.


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ACRONYM is a nonprofit organization committed to building power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement.

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