Facebook app helping Obama win in 2012 won’t be around for 2016

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A Facebook app that was part of Barack Obama’s successful re-election strategy will not be available for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Facebook is rolling out changes that inhibit campaigns from targeting voters and their friends with information about a candidate, essentially preventing a repeat of one of the most advanced social targeting efforts used by Obama in 2012.

“It’s a fairly significant shift,” said Obama’s 2012 digital director Teddy Goff in an interview with Jon Ward of Yahoo News.

Goff oversaw the effort to bring the Obama campaign a Facebook following of 45 million users using the app among other tools to register more than a million voters online. The organization also raised $690 million online from 2011 to 2012.

“The thing we did that will be most affected — by which I mean rendered impossible — by the changes they’re making is the targeted sharing tool,” he added.

More than 1 million supporters installed the Obama campaign Facebook app in 2012, with an option to share their friend lists with the campaign. Most app users did so, Goff said.

Cross-referenced against voter records, the app provided “targeted suggestions” of people to share campaign info. It was an unprecedented voter outreach effort based on the assumption that voters, particularly younger Americans, were skeptical of traditional TV and other forms of campaign advertising, but open to messages from friends and online acquaintances.

One useful way to get messages in front of voters is coming from those they know.

“It’s extremely powerful for a campaign to be able to say to [a user], ‘Hey, here are your persuadable friends, ranked in order of where they live,” Goff said. “Ohio first, Virginia second, et cetera. Go share this video directly with them.’”

In October, the Romney campaign began doing the same thing.

However, as of the spring of 2014, Facebook — pressured by growing privacy concerns — now limit information third party applications could gather from users installing the apps.

According to Facebook engineering manager Jeffrey Spehar, the social media giant had heard from numerous people saying, “they’re often surprised when a friend shares their information with an app.”

“So we’ve updated Facebook Login so that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list,” Spehar said in a blog post.

Facebook users looking to share an app, only friends who already use the app will be visible, Facebook representative Tera Randall told Yahoo News.

New apps after April 30 must incorporate the change, and existing apps have a year before they must change. Specifically, Facebook is changing its API (Graph application programming interface) in addition to terms of service for app developers.

Grassroots groups — like Ready for Hillary, supporters of a possible Clinton presidential run – have used the targeted sharing during the past year. The group now has Facebook friend lists of those who installed Ready for Hillary’s app.

When the API and terms-of-service changes apply to all apps — April 30, 2015 —  Ready for Hillary will lose the ability to update supporters’ lists of friends and access to Facebook friends of new supporters.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.