How Facebook and Twitter Quietly Helped Trump Win (Vanity Fair)

How Facebook and Twitter Quietly Helped Trump Win

If you made a list of the factors that landed Donald Trump in the White House, Trump campaign digital director Brad Parscale would put Facebook near the top. “Facebook now lets you get to places—and places possibly that you would never go with TV ads,” Parscale told CBS earlier this month. “Now, I can find, you know, 15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for. And, we took opportunities that I think the other side didn’t.” As major tech companies face mounting criticism for the polarizing, hyper-partisan advertising and disinformation disseminated on their platforms during the 2016 election, a new study suggests that employees at Facebook, Google, and Twitter took on crucial roles within the Trump campaign, acting more akin to political strategists than tech employees, and shoring up digital operations in a way Team Trump could not have accomplished on its own.

Embedded tech employees took on such responsibilities as targeting hard-to-reach voters and coming up with responses to probable lines of attack during debates, according to Politico. “Facebook, Twitter, and Google [went] beyond promoting their services and facilitating digital advertising buys,” the peer-reviewed paper concludes. The companies “actively [shaped] campaign communications through their close collaboration with political staffers.”

While Facebook, Google, and Twitter all offered the same services to 2016 candidates free of charge, the Clinton campaign turned down their assistance. (One tech company employee in the study says her campaign “viewed us as vendors rather than consultants.”) The Trump campaign, on the other hand, which didn’t invest severely in its digital outfit during the primary, used “embeds” extensively during the general election. Ultimately, the work each company did for Trump—Google recommending geographically targeted ads, Twitter analyzing the success of tweet-based fundraising efforts, and Facebook identifying which pictures performed best on Instagram, for instance—helped close the gap between him and Clinton, experts cited in the study conclude.

The collaboration likely proved lucrative for all three companies—online political-ad spending during the 2016 election totaled $1.4 billion and is expected to double in 2020. Like almost everyone else, the overwhelmingly liberal tech industry never expected the polarizing real-estate mogul to win, which meant collaborating with his campaign was a money grab free of consequence. And, Politico points out, it carried additional benefits: national exposure, a testing ground for new features and products, and the chance to build a relationship with a candidate who might end up holding the regulatory reins once in office. Following the 2016 election, however, the symbiotic relationship between politicians and tech companies has caused many to question whether Facebook, Twitter, and Google are abusing their ability to control the flow of information, forcing Facebook executives to embark on a public apology tour, and leaving all three giants poised for a reckoning that could curtail their power.


via Vanity Fair

October 26, 2017 at 07:01AM