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Social Media, Advertising, 2016 election – Part 3

March 22, 2018

Looks like FB and the impact of social media advertising in the 2016 election is making headlines. In this post, I’ll try to lay out a possible next logical stepping stone, along one possible line of reasoning.

I’ll temporarily assume that the self-reinforcing dynamics of FB advertising were a top factor in determining the outcome of the election, rather than a “straw that broke the camel’s back”. In reality, I think the camel was pre-loaded with a ton of other factors. Most prominently economic inequality, but also very significant disillusionment with both the Republican and Democrat parties, as exemplified by the Bush and Clinton names. If you think in terms of advertising, that’s a major disadvantage in branding.

But I do think it is entirely appropriate to focus specifically on the workings of internet-age advertising, so lets do that. Now that FB has to defend itself a little bit, I think we will find the following 2 things:

1. The toolkit of social media advers/manipulation was equally available to both sides in the election.

1a. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was used with equal or greater effort by Clinton, simply due to superior Democratic fundraising in the 2016 election.

2. The interplay between Democrats’ conflicting social media advertising objectives during the primaries, and during the general election.

2a. During the primaries, Clinton managed to convince Democratic voters that Clinton would be best able to appeal to Independents and Swing-State voters. (i.e., “electability”). This was in spite of polls showing that her general-election appeal was at best equal, and most often, lower compared to Sanders – against all potential Republican opponents.

It wouldn’t surprise me that there was a very successful advert / media campaign specifically to buttress the faith of Clinton’s general electability among Democratic primary voters. The necessary side effect of this campaign would be to de-emphasize any attention paid to the desires of disillusioned voters in swing states. This applies especially to superdelegates – experienced in US politics – who should’ve known better.

2b. The “pied piper candidate” angle. Unlike the pundits on TV, actual campaign managers do pay attention to the polls, from early on. And they have the benefit of all this social media analytic data we are now talking about.

Democratic campaign managers were surely disturbed by the polls. According to the numbers during the 2016 primaries, Clinton had only the slimmest little lead over the “better” Republican candidates. In fact there was only one likely opponent she was consistently beating by more than the polling error – Trump.

I believe that there was a deliberate media campaign, by Team Clinton, to encourage the Republican party to nominate the opponent most favorable to Clinton, namely Trump. This was entirely conventional wisdom of course. Nearly everyone, including me, thought that Trump’s nomination was a colossal blunder for the R party. And to be fair, on the flip side, it’s equally plausible that the R. party would support media campaigns within the Democratic primary attacking Clinton.

But now lets mix in what we’ve learned recently about social media advertising and how it amplifies the snowballing effect of group behavior in popularity contests / branding etc.

Consider the possibility that Team Clinton’s efforts to line up a more favorable general election opponent involved social media?

Recall that FB advertisers receive an increasing discount to reward them for adverts that are actually popular. This mechanically amplifies the self-reinforcing group popularity effect that is already there just from human nature.

So during the primaries, social media on the Republican side builds a mass of people clicking on Trump stuff, liking it, bringing down the price of Trump ads. Democrats spending social media ad money prefer Trump to Cruz, so they fuel this.

By the time of the convention, you get a mass of people whose facebook accounts are now trained to show them Trump content.

Now, for the General election, if you’re a Democratic campaign manager, you want this all this to flip, but it’s too late. The advertising pricing system senses that there is a mass of accounts programmed to be in Trump mode, and so Trump ads get a discount. The Democrats at this point stop paying for Trump ads, but the Republicans unify after the nomination and step up their funding, so the commercial side of facebook is still pumping the content.

The advertising machinery shows most of the pro-Clinton material to people who already like Clinton, it shows most of the pro-Trump material to people who already like Trump. Otherwise, these groups of FB users would have an unpleasant experience viewing unfriendly ads and might stop playing with their phones. That would be bad for business as far as FB is concerned. In any case, those two groups have their minds made up.

What about independents? Well guess what – the advertising machinery already sorted them out, during the primaries! Back when both conventional and social media was encouraging Trump supporters to gel as a group.

The mechanical amplification of the popularity-snowball-effect we’ve been going over recently, gave the group of accounts associated with Trump content a head start. I suspect Democratic spending during the primaries contributed to this. Millions of accounts pre-programmed, and the whole thing reaching self-reinforcing critical mass by the time of the 2016 election nominations. Big Oops. They are never going to admit this happened. (unless they squeeze FB’s Mark Zuckerberg too hard, but I seriously doubt it).


As for Cambridge Analytica? A little more about their parent company, here. Turns out they’re very much a part of the UK establishment, on the conservative side.

link: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/03/20/scl-a-very-british-coup/

( via https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/  <– via NakedCapitalism )

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