Trump is officially the biggest political advertiser on Facebook, spending $274,000 on ads through the social media platform since May. These findings were revealed in a study conducted by researchers at New York University who analyzed Facebook’s own data that was recently made public following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Trump’s $274,000 surpasses Facebook’s second-largest political advertiser, Planned Parenthood, who spent $188,000 during the same time period. The advertisements paid for by Trump and his political action committee are also the most viewed by Facebook users. Since May, 37 million people have seen Trump’s ads while only 24 million have seen Planned Parenthood’s.
These findings were revealed through Facebook’s own public database. Facebook’s public political ad archive launched in May after the aforementioned Cambridge Analytica scandal, which entailed Facebook allowing 87 million of its users’ data to be exposed to a political consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica who worked on the Trump campaign. A class-action lawsuit was filed against both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, claiming that they used users’ data to create “political propaganda campaigns” in the U.K. and the U.S. To further add to Facebook’s pitfalls, 13 Russian citizens and three companies were indicted by the Justice Department for influencing the 2016 election to favor Trump using Facebook and Instagram.
Following the news of the scandal, Facebook began a new advertising campaign in an attempt to promote transparency on their platform. This transparency campaign includes requiring buyers of political ads to be verified as a U.S. citizen or permanent resident before purchasing the ad in an attempt to stop foreign interference. The campaign also includes Facebook’s public political ad archive, which the N.Y.U. researchers used to reveal Trump as the biggest political advertiser on the platform. Their study provides the nation with the first-ever full picture of who is impacting elections through the use of political ads on the world’s largest social media platform.
The study was released just in time for the midterm elections in November, as Republicans and Democrats ramp up their ad spending. Social media has become one of the most effective ways to reach voters, surpassing the traditional TV ads. Despite Facebook’s recent scandal, the platform will still have a major impact on the midterm elections.
According to the study, there are 449 top political ad spenders on Facebook. 210 of the spenders are liberal groups, 124 are conservative groups and 115 are “politically neutral.” The group of researchers has yet to tally the overall spending for Republicans and Democrats, but plans to release that data in the future. Despite Facebook’s recent attempts to be transparent, the study found 43,575 political advertisements that did not identify the sponsor, meaning thousands of Facebook political advertisers did not go through the verification process.
Despite the study’s less-than-perfect findings through Facebook’s transparency campaign, the social media platform responded positively. Facebook’s director of product management Rob Leathern said:
This report is the exactly how we hoped the tool would be used—outside experts helping to analyze these ads on Facebook. It brings more transparency to the messages people see and increases accountability and responsibility over time, not just for us but advertisers as well.
Trump often uses Facebook’s targeted ad campaigns feature, and his digital ad director has admitted that they used it to target voters in 2016. This week, Trump has used the targeted ad campaign to release dozens of ads pushing for his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.