Lies, Damn Lies and Facebook Posts

The New Yorker March 9, 2020 pp44-55 The Political Scene “#WINNING”. “Brad Parscale used social media to sway the 2016 election. He’s poised to do it again.” By Andrew Marantz

Brad Parscale, a six-foot-eight inched political novice low bided his way into the Trump inner circle. His bid to build a website for Trump International Realty was so low that Eric Trump phoned him up asking “We think you’re missing a zero, and we don’t know if you are just dumb or you don’t know what you’re doing”.

Earlier, after studying business at Trinity University (San Antonio) he worked a few years for his father then the CEO of “an animation software company called Electric Image (EI) based in Orange County California. When EI went “belly up”, Brad returned to San Antonio and one day visited a book store “asking for the best-selling book in the business section, which turned out to be an instructional text about Web development”. Brad recounted “I finished it and thought, I could do that”.

An incredibly hard-worker, who wants to win, he recognized early on and exploited a belief that “Machine learning and social-media algorithms are upending most aspects of contemporary life, including politics”. Mark Zuckerberg, Time’s Person of the Year 2010, noted Facebook (FB) “knows exactly who you are and what you’re interested in, because you told it so”. Parscale essentially applied these microtargeting techniques using FBs “hacker mentality” exploring how best to leverage this for political advertising.

Although Donald Trump felt they were wasting millions, on the internet rather than his preferred TV advertising, he didn’t intervene. At the time, Trumps election certainly wasn’t in-the-bag. Besides being low cost, Brad appealed in another way so essential to Donald. He became publicly “obsequious” to the Donald and inculcated himself well with the family. Early in 2015, Brad’s website etc. had some glitches and staffers were wanting to replace him but instead “We’re going to stick with Brad, one staffer explained to the other ‘Brad is considered family’". Later, Brad was ramping up his operation and got Jared Kushner's buy-in for increasing the “online marketing” budget.

To his credit, Brad believed in using objective data for deciding what was effective. Not suprisingly Pascale was wary of outsiders including the FB marketing people. The big FB conversion, which led to bringing on embedded FB staff, happened after the Trump campaign spent $300,000 on a FB-based campaign that in one day returned $1.3 million in donations.

It is customary for large FB customers to essentially receive onsite expertise to help in exploiting the platform. Reportedly, the Clinton campaign turned down the same type of embedded FB assistance. It is telling that, the Trump campaign ran “5.9 million Facebook ads” a staggering 100-fold more than Clinton.

Other interesting facts noted in this article.

Brad instituted the policy of requiring a valid cell phone number in exchange for attending any free Trump rally. As a result, the Trump campaign now claims, an unimaginable, 215,000,000 cell numbers and are reportedly on track to send a billion text messages.

The Trump campaign and the RNC completely merged their efforts.

MIT published an article in 2018 reporting that fake stories filled with “fearmongering, rage bait, and racist propaganda go viral more readily than calm [unemotional], patient deliberation. Such content was microtargeted by the Trump campaign.

Alarmingly, except for absolution fabrications, like purposely changing an election date for example, even the most egregious advertising neither breaks FB rules or is illegal. The question is whether or not your campaign is willing to be so unprincipled.

Political advertising accounts for very little FB revenue (<1%). So customizing efforts for politics, like fact-checking, apply disclaimers or warnings about political tricks or dark posts are not being seriously pursued.

FB Executives believe FB helped get Donald Trump elected but only “because he ran the single best digital campaign ever”. They dismiss Russian interference or misinformation by Cambridge Analytica”.

Since the 2016-wi, Brad Pascale launched the Trump 2020 reelection campaign and has been continually upgrading their data machine. Brad was recently named the Manager of the 2020 Trump campaign.

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