Ok, so remember waaaaay back to 2016. There was a presidential election. This woman named Hillary Clinton was running against Donald Trump. I know, it's weird, right?
So both Hillary and Trump (and some Russians, but don't worry about that for now) were advertising on Facebook. This is all very normal stuff.
But buying Facebook ads isn't like buying a TV ad where there's a flat rate. The ad rates, measured by CPM (cost per thousand ads), vary based on a complex algorithm.
Last week, Wired published a story by a former Facebook employee who worked on the ads algorithm. Basically, he said Trump played the Facebook system like a fiddle and was able to get much cheaper ad rates than Hillary.
The Wired story said that Facebook lowers prices on ads that cause more engagement – meaning that Trump's more "controversial" posts spread even further than Hillary's ads, for cheaper, because they generated lots of reactions, comments, and shares.
Which means that Trump's ad dollars stretched much further than Hillary's on Facebook.
Basically, Trump's 2016 social media campaign:
Brad Parscale, who ran the Trump campaign's digital efforts (and was just named Trump's campaign manager for 2020) said that the Wired story got it right.
Then Parscale dropped a bomb: He said the Trump campaign probably paid 100 to 200 times less per ad than Clinton's campaign did.
And then Clinton's former director of communications, Jennifer Palmieri, chimed in and was like: YUP!
People saw Brad Parscale's tweets and were like WHOA, holy shit.
Hillary was NOT AMUSED.
[Dramatic reenactment of Hillary Clinton reading Wired]:
Basically, people FREAKED out. Because like...isn't it kinda nuts that Facebook can charge political campaigns different ad prices? And like...is that what ended up deciding the election?
But wait my friends. Wait. Because Facebook keeps receipts and does 👏 not👏 like👏 being 👏 blamed👏 for👏 the👏 2016👏 election.
Today, Andrew Bosworth, an exec at Facebook, tweeted a graph that shows the Wired story wasn't entirely correct. In fact, it shows that Trump paid slightly HIGHER ad rates than Hillary on most days leading up to Election Day.
Facebook to Wired right now:
But if you think the feud ends there, well, you'd be wrong.
Facebook's data doesn't account for how far the posts spread after the ad buys.
So we still don't know *exactly* what the campaigns' money got them.
Facebook declined to comment on how far the candidates' ads spread after they were purchased.
That's all the drama for today, folks. But buckle up, because this may just be getting started.
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
Contact Alex Kantrowitz at email@example.com.
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