Pretty much every Facebook user has by now realized the ads on the sides of the page aren’t random. They’re for vacation spots you may have Googled or clothing similar to something previously purchased online.
Gearing up toward 2016, those ads, and sponsored posts embedded in news feeds, will likely become increasingly political. Facebook has reached out to every single 2016 presidential campaign and even some down-ballot ones in anticipation of $1 billion in political advertising.
Those ads will target Facebook’s nearly 190 million monthly users in the United States.
According to The Washington Post Facebook is preparing for what it expects to be the busiest of political advertising seasons it’s ever seen. As a result, it has more than doubled the government and politics team since 2012 by amping up employees for things like sales, data communication and people focusing individually on both Democrats and Republicans.
Among changes to Facebook’s advertising platform are the ability for campaigns to upload more effective and efficient videos with calls to action at the end linking to campaign websites and donation opportunities.
Since expanding video options in 2014, views quadrupled.
Campaigns can also upload their voter files directly to the social media network, allowing them to target voters identified as likely to participate in the election. Further, campaigns can now use Facebook to find additional voters not already on their rolls based on shared interests and online activity of those already targeted.
This builds on technology already used to reach out to very specific people. An example given by The Washington Post uses the Scott Walker campaign. Operatives there tracked who visited the team’s donation page and used that information to determine what the user had done on the website. For those who donated, pleas were made for more donations. Those just seeking information would be groomed a little more subtly by asking to enroll in email updates or to visit an online store.
The targeting capabilities of online advertising have completely changed the way campaign organizers play the game. Instead of wooing undecided or noncommittal voters, campaigns are now focusing their efforts on finding more supporters and getting them to the ballot box.
It’s evidence, even, of the political polarization of the modern electorate.
As fascinating the evolving campaign strategies and capabilities may be, there are still privacy concerns.
“I think most users really have no idea how much information Facebook collects about them or how Facebook is able to infer from even a post to a friend what their political orientation might be,” Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The Washington Post. “If you’re a Facebook user, Facebook knows everything you’ve said, everything you’ve posted, everything you’ve clicked on.”