Midterms Were a Facebook Success. Where Do We Go From Here?
One can hardly spend five minutes on Facebook these days without running into something political. Whether it’s a less than tasteful post from your unfiltered uncle or a paid ad from a political party, politics has infiltrated Facebook to its very core. Concerns over Facebook’s influence on politics dates back before the last presidential election, but the social media giant also played a major role in the 2018 midterms.
As the largest social media platform in the world, Facebook has an incredibly far reach. A wide variety of people can view its contents, and other agents can influence the kind of content people see since one can post virtually whatever they want on Facebook. This has stirred up no small amount of controversy, but all the uproar wasn’t enough to take Facebook down by the time the 2018 midterms rolled around. Learn why midterms were a Facebook success, and discover where we go from here.
Cambridge Analytica Scandal
Beginning in 2015, a company called Cambridge Analytica began harvesting data from Facebook users to sell to political campaigns without the users’ consent. It wasn’t until early 2018 that this became public knowledge, however, when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on the operation. In response, there was public outcry, and Mark Zuckerberg himself was called to testify in front of the United States Congress.
Facebook also lost quite a bit of its share price in the scandal, which led many advertisers to consider shifting their focus to other social media platforms. Still being a relatively new way to communicate, social media doesn’t have the kind of regulation that other forms of media have. This scandal had roused the public and politicians to start thinking about meaningful change, as well as how to protect social media consumers and quell misinformation and blatant political propaganda.
Effect on Facebook
After a scandal like this, Facebook was bound to take a hit. Before you think about shifting focus away from Facebook advertising though, consider the tangible consequences of what happened. Zuckerberg apologized on behalf of Facebook and was hit with a £500,000 fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK. While that seems like a steep fine for the average person, it’s approximately 0.005% of Facebook’s earnings in just the second quarter of 2018.
So far, that fine was the only one actually levied against Facebook, but the Irish Data Protection Commission is looking into whether or not the social media giant violated the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation that recently passed in an effort to protect EU citizens from the very thing Facebook allowed to happen. If Facebook is found in violation of GDPR, it could face a fine of up to $1.63 billion. Even if the social networking site it made to pay that, however, it’s just 4% of what the site makes in a single year. Zuckerberg could pay that fine himself and lose less than 3% of his net worth, and that’s after all the billions he lost when the scandal first broke. In short, Facebook is going to be just fine.
Facebook and the 2018 Midterms
Just a few months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, the United States held its 2018 midterm elections. Seeing how influential Facebook was on the 2016 presidential election and Brexit, one can look at how the midterms were handled to see just how much Facebook has changed. The most obvious piece of evidence is that political campaigns are pouring a lot more money into TV and radio ads than in the years prior, so Facebook is certainly getting less attention. Even so, the gears of Facebook’s micro-propaganda machine are still turning.
Since the scandal, Facebook has taken action to prevent the spread of misinformation designed to sway voters. The company has outright banned misinformation regarding where and when people can vote. Even with all this, however, there are still plenty of pages with clear propagandic intent, and that’s in part due to the fact that the person running a page doesn’t have to be connected at all to the people paying for Facebook Ads. This creates a loophole that allows for the posting of political ads without the “paid for” label, which renders Facebook’s attempt at effective ad transparency largely ineffective.
What This Means for Advertisers
While political campaigns have hoards of dark money funding them, commercial advertisers can’t necessarily say the same. It’s clearly still possible to get around Facebook’s ad transparency initiatives, but it’s not cheap. Even so, adopting the same tactics as political campaigns probably won’t lead to a positive ROI either, so it’s generally a waste of time. More importantly, however, Facebook doesn’t allow as much data collection, which is essential for targeted ads.
The lack of user information can be frustrating to an advertiser, but it’s a necessary cost to keeping Facebook’s user base after these scandals. You’ll just have to start using data you collected yourself to create targeted ads. Facebook also allows advertisers to use information like email lists to target (anonymously, of course) users similar to those on your list. Overall, it seems like Facebook is moving away from third-party data collectors only to implement their own form of data collection on their own platform. Since it’s anonymous first-party collection, users can feel safe, and advertisers can still take advantage.
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