A new study by researchers at New York University has discovered that President Trump and his political action committee (PAC) spent $274,000 on ads on Facebook since early May 2018 — the most of any other political ad spender. The US leader and his PAC heavily outpaced the second-biggest spender, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which spent just over $188,000 for the same period of time.
Data for the study was compiled from Facebook’s relatively new ad archive. Launched in May, the archive shows all the ads on Facebook and who paid for them. It also includes impressions, or information about how many times the ad was viewed and the reactions it received. Facebook also changed its policy in May to require political ads to disclose who paid for them.
Analysis of the data by researchers Laura Edelson, Shikhar Sakhuga, and Damon McCoy also showed that the ads purchased by the president and his PAC were seen the most by Facebook users. They were viewed by more than 37 million people from May through July. In contrast, the ads by Planned Parenthood were seen by 24 million people.
Social media was a huge part of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. The ad push on Facebook was one of several social media campaigns that helped the Republican win the election. Brad Parscale, the digital ad director for the Trump Campaign, previously acknowledged that his team used Facebook’s targeted ad campaigns to reach voters during the election.
Parscale explained in an interview with CBC News that one of his main responsibilities was creating carefully-tailored digital ads to millions of people. While the campaign used other digital platforms like Google and Twitter, they focused on Facebook. For his successful work done on the 2016 campaign, Parscale was selected as Trump’s 2020 campaign manager.
Trump and his PAC often run a dozen versions of the same ad, then they push the ones that perform the best to a wider audience. This kind of specific ad targeting came under scrutiny earlier this year. Data company Cambridge Analytica was found to have mined 50 million Facebook profiles for information.
Cambridge Analytica was on the Trump campaign’s payroll in the lead up to the election, but it repeatedly denied any of the data was used to help the president win.
It’s worth noting that the researchers found 43,575 cases in the archive where ads didn’t identify a sponsor. This means the person who purchased the ad didn’t follow Facebook’s new verification process.
There are a few caveats to Facebook’s ad archive, such as how the company allows information to be searched and displayed, but the work still shows how the archive can be used for political campaign analysis. For now, the archive shows Trump’s interest in drumming up support for his latest Supreme Court pick.