Google and Facebook under pressure after helping anti-refugee campaign
An anti-refugee campaign, Secure America Now, received targeted help from Facebook and Google to achieve the most efficient use of its millions of dollars of ad-spending in the run up to the US general election, it has been reported.
The campaign, which split its focus between anti-Islamic adverts, such as one alleging the imminent creation of the “Islamic State of France”, and more specifically political messages focused on Hillary Clinton, was treated as a big-ticket customer by the advertising teams at both companies, receiving a high tier of personalised treatment, according to Bloomberg News.
On Facebook’s part, that partially involved working directly with the advertising agency that handled Secure America Now’s business, to experiment with video advert formats in an effort to find which of 12 different versions was most effective. Facebook used Secure America Now’s video to explore whether or not vertical video adverts could be more impactful than square ones. (They are not, was the result.)
Facebook declined to comment on the record about the partnership, but was keen to stress that it did not work directly with Secure America Now, only the campaign’s ad agency, and that it was the agency’s idea to perform the experiment.
Google worked closely with the campaign, according to Bloomberg, with sales managers from its elections team bringing Secure America Now and its agency into the web firm’s New York offices for advice about how to create more effective campaigns.
In a statement, Google said: “We have strict policies that govern where we allow Google ads to appear and we enforce these policies vigorously. When we find ads that violate these policies, we immediately disapprove and stop showing them.” The company eventually blocked some ads from the campaign for violating its policies, including some for the Islamic State of France video.
The work with Secure America Now cuts to the core of Facebook’s difficult year since the election. Immediately after Donald Trump was proclaimed President Elect, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said it was a “crazy idea” that fake news on Facebook had influenced the his election; and even before Trump’s victory, Facebook committed to political neutrality: “we have not and will not use our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote,” the company said, after Zuckerberg was asked by employees “what responsibility Facebook [has] to help prevent President Trump”. (Zuckerberg has since backtracked: “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it,” he wrote in September.)
But Facebook also markets itself to politicians and campaigners around the world based precisely on its ability to influence how people vote. One Facebook advertiser “success story” is even titled “the best content to influence voters”. The company, like Google, makes a significant amount of its income providing programmatic advertising in a completely hands-off manner for small organisations, but as its work with Secure America Now shows, it also takes a more active role in campaigns.
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