Alumni of the Clinton campaign and left-leaning critics of Facebook claim that revelations from a recent Wall Street Journal story about how both the Trump and Clinton operations handled social media demonstrate how Facebook “favored” Trump in the 2016 elections.
But, it seems, the lack of attention Clinton got on social media was Clinton’s fault, not Facebook’s.
The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that a key figure in President Donald Trump’s 2016 social media strategy has now “jumped ship” and is helping organizations looking to remove the President from power.
Buried deep in the story, critics claim, is evidence that Facebook provided Trump’s operations with consultants, helped them understand the platform’s ads system, and use the system to maximize their ads’ visibility. As a result, “every dollar that the Trump campaign spent on [Facebook] ads yielded $2 to $3 in fundraising dollars.”
The Daily Beast’s editor, Noah Shachtman even claimed that the “stunning story” “shows how Facebook worked overtime for Trump – crafting digital strategy, creating custom code, and experimenting with different ways to maximize pro-Donald content.”
Ultimately, Trump ended up spending around $44 million targeting users on Facebook with fundraising ads.
Even Hillary Clinton herself has used that number as evidence that social media is a menace to the political process, alleging that platforms like Facebook can be bought.
“We should all care about how social-media platforms play a part in our democratic process. Because unless it’s addressed it will happen again,” Clinton tweeted in 2018. “The midterms are in 8 months. We owe it to our democracy to get this right, and fast.”
But what the critics — and Clinton — fail to grasp, it seems, is that Facebook’s utilities and consultations are neutral and available to anyone who needs them. Only Trump’s team took advantage of them, giving them better insight into how Facebook works, and helping them maximize their return on investment.
The evidence was there back in 2018, when Clinton began to fret about the situation publicly.
“[B]ecause Trump used provocative content to stoke social-media buzz, and he was better able to drive likes, comments, and shares than Clinton, his bids received a boost from Facebook’s click model, effectively winning him more media for less money,” one expert told Vanity Fair at the time. “Clinton was paying Manhattan prices for the square footage on your smartphone’s screen, while Trump was paying Detroit prices. Facebook users in swing states who felt Trump had taken over their news feeds may not have been hallucinating.”
That was because Trump was taking advantage of Facebook’s services. Clinton’s team, it seems, thought they could get the same results alone.
“The companies offered such services, without charge, to all the 2016 candidates,” the WSJ reported. “But Hillary Clinton’s campaign declined to embed the companies employees in her operations, instead opting to develop its own digital apparatus.”
The story says that Clinton called in tech experts to help, but too little too late, and the experts she called in didn’t have the same level of knowledge Facebook’s own insiders did.
Ultimately, its not clear that either operation was able to use Facebook to get results at the ballot box. While the Trump campaign did raise money, digital targeting may not have been effective at turning out votes.
But that doesn’t mean Clinton, still looking for an excuse to explain her 2016 loss – that has nothing to do with her own miserable operation – is more than happy to consider the possibility.