Facebook overcharged Clinton because her posts were boring

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Regardless of how much influence the Russian Internet Research Agency may or may not have had on the 2016 election, there is one way in which Facebook may have significantly affected the election.

This wired story by Antonio Garcia Martinez explains how Facebook charged the Trump Campaign significantly less than the Clinton campaign thanks to how it’s ad auction system works.

Martinez explains:

As on Google, Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.

This means that content that is especially alluring can result in the marketer paying significantly lower rates. The Trump campaign used what Martinez terms “provocative content” to encourage clicks and reduce their overall cost.

Additionally the difference in their geographic power bases affected their costs as well. Rural voters (more likely to go for Trump) are much much cheaper than urban voters (more likely to go for Clinton).

Another way that Facebook affected the election is through Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences, two ways in which marketers can identify and spread content. Custom Audiences are merely segmentation. Martinez uses the examples of shoes. Browsed for shoes and got cookied? You’re in a custom audience for shoes now.

Lookalike Audiences take the people in Custom Audiences and look for people like them through mutual engagement, and then spread the messages from the Custom Audiences to the Lookalike Audiences.

All of this is powered through engagement in the user’s feed, and created a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

The Trump Campaign leveraged both of these tools to do things like depress voter turnout in specific communities.

Interestingly, Facebook has released data to rebut these claims, though the data may not accurately cover what needs to be known.

Why it’s hot

We don’t understand how social networks are affecting our democratic process.