Stories

Senators troll Facebook with fake ad campaign

Screenshot from Facebook

Showing they plan to continue playing hardball with Big Tech, Democratic Senators Mark Warner (Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) created a Facebook page for a fictional political group — Americans for Disclosure Solutions (ADS) — then paid to target the newsfeeds of thousands of journalists and Hill staffers.

Why it matters: A Warner aide tells me the senator was surprised that "there was literally no mechanism on [Facebook] for us to [prove] we were who we said we were," adding, "it was really easy for Russian operatives to use the same micro-targeting tools as they attempted to meddle in last fall's presidential election ... [Y]ou can see why this would be so appealing to the Russians."

How they did it: Warner and Klobuchar — who have introduced a bill, backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), to require more disclosure about online politics ads — created a "Political Organization" page on Facebook for the fictional group.

  • "Using campaign funds in accordance with Senate ethics rules," according to aides, they "launched a small, 24-hour ad buy on Facebook targeting Washington, D.C. journalists and Capitol Hill staffers."
  • "For just $20, ... Warner and Klobuchar reached 1,369 self-identified Hill staffers in under 24 hours."
  • "For just $20, Warner and Klobuchar reached 1,407 Washington, D.C.-based journalists."

Be smart: Axios media trends reporter Sara Fischer, an authority on digital advertising, tells me (vehemently, BTW) that this experiment doesn't go far enough: That "reach" doesn't mean the targets saw the ad — just that they could have.

  • Sara emails: "In the political advertising world, you would need to serve at least 7-10 viewable impressions to a person over a short window, two-four weeks, to even begin driving intent or action."
  • "But the experiment shows how easy and cost-effective it is for anyone to access the tools to potentially build a political campaign on Facebook."

The takeaway: Facebook has been (belatedly) the most forthcoming of the three tech giants, but their political stop gates aren't in place yet: They say they're working on it, and it will take time.