- President Donald Trump uses Facebook to throttle Democrats during elections even as conservatives argue the platform discriminates against their best interests.
- Many of the critiques against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are taking their toll as the company continues to struggle to endure the wrath from conservatives and liberals.
- Trump’s campaign manager says he managed to flip the script on Silicon Valley and turned Facebook’s liberal tools into one of the president’s most useful tools.
Conservatives often say big tech companies are suppressing their content, but there is evidence showing President Donald Trump and his campaign team use such platforms to throttle Democrats.
Trump spent heavily on Facebook and used various tech platforms to microtarget his audience, many of whom are above the age of 50 and use Facebook heavily. The president’s use of these tools assisted in his campaign’s success in 2016, even as conservatives accused Facebook of mass bias.
Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, trumpeted the campaign’s ability to leverage big tech tools for a big win. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2018 that conservatives flipped the script on Silicon Valley’s liberal establishment.
“These social platforms were all invented by very liberal people on the West and East Coast, and we figure out how to use it to push conservative values,” Parscale said. “I don’t think they ever thought that would happen,” he said before suggesting people were surprised Trump weaponized Facebook.
Parscale, who worked as Trump’s social media guru during the 2016 election, explained how the campaign exploited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild.
Most of his success was in matching individual preferences with ad content or microtargeting his constituents. The campaign changed “language, words, colors, changing things because certain people like a green button better than a blue button,” Parscale told CBS’s Lesley Stahl, adding that the campaign tested who would like what type of ad.
Trump’s Facebook campaigns were more complex than those employed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 election. Her loss came as a surprise to media pundits and political analysts, many of whom believed she was a shoe-in given her poll numbers.
Clinton spent $28 million on Facebook from June to November in 2016 and tested 66,000 ads during that period, whereas Trump plowed more than $44 million into the social media company, Bloomberg reported in 2018, citing a white paper from Facebook. The president also tested 5.9 million versions of various ads during that time.
The campaign is taking the same approach as the 2020 election nears. Trump spent roughly $15.9 million on Facebook and Google through Sept. 19, according to data from the Wesleyan Media Project. His next closest competitors in the race are Democratic South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Butigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have spent less than $7 million, respectively.
Trump’s team is also using the president’s norm-breaking style and bombastic behavior to dial-up the Google and Facebook knobs. The campaign sold nearly 55,000 packs of plastic straws, netting over $823,000 in sales, and sold more than $50,000 worth of fine point markers as of Sept. 13.
Trump began selling straws in July as an act of rebellion against cities that began prohibiting the items, and the campaign began selling markers after CNN criticized him for supposedly using a pen on a map to alter Hurricane Dorian’s trajectory. These techniques were being used as Republicans continued to slam Facebook for discriminating against conservatives.
The president and Republican lawmakers are fleshing out ways to reign in Facebook, Google and Twitter before they become too big to regulate. Trump, for his part, invited a slew of conservative activists to the White House in July to discuss how social media companies are affecting their livelihoods. The summit did not result in any committed action, but it did elevate the concern.
Facebook announced in September that it would not subject politicians, like Trump who post comments that might violate the company’s policies against publishing false content, to fact-checkers. Media pundits and Democratic candidates were among those who cried foul, suggesting the move would promote misinformation across the internet.
Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, suggested in an Oct. 7 tweet that Trump and Zuckerberg are conspiring to tilt the election in favor of the Republicans. “Trump and Zuckerberg met at the White House two weeks ago. What did they talk about?” Warren wrote. She was referring to reports showing that Trump and Zuckerberg met on Sept. 19 at the Oval Office.
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