I ran digital ads for a presidential campaign, and Twitter is right to ban them




 

As the digital director for Congressman Seth Moulton's 2020 presidential campaign, I was responsible for everything the campaign did on the internet: the emails you claim to hate, the videos we hoped would go viral, the online infrastructure that supported organizers in the field, and more. But our biggest investment of both time and money, by far, was in digital advertising.

For our campaign and many others, digital ads were the single biggest expense outside of payroll. Yet these ads are terrible for campaigns, toxic for democracy and are even bad for the companies who profit off them. Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took a bold first step in banning political ads - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai should follow suit.

Digital ads are one of the most important channels for acquiring new supporters and serving them that all-important question: "Will you chip in $10, $5, or whatever you can to support our campaign? Even $1 helps!" When the Democratic National Committee announced in February that presidential candidates would need a minimum of 65,000 individual donors to qualify for the first two debates, acquiring these small dollar donors became a do-or-die priority for campaigns.


The trouble is, when 25 campaigns are competing in a Democratic donor market that had just five competitors in 2016, and when each campaign is desperate to acquire new donors, prices go up. Way up.

We - and I suspect many others - routinely ran what were supposed to be revenue-generating ads at a loss, spending $10, $20, or even $30 in order to acquire one new donor and their contribution of as little as $1. This is a terrible deal for campaigns: they hemorrhage cash in order to lose money acquiring more, costing weeks or months of valuable runway, all while Facebook pockets the difference. At scale, the consequence is massive: the remaining 18 Democratic candidates have already spent over $53 million on Facebook and Google this cycle, most of it these kinds of ads.

These ads are toxic to our democracy.

Due to short online attention spans, the character limits that enforce them and the engagement algorithms that act as gatekeepers to the digital world, campaigns must distill complex issues down to a two sentence pseudo-essence that would leave even debate moderators unsatisfied. And if you want to have a prayer of anyone clicking on your ad, it had better be as inflammatory as possible - people click when they're angry.

The easiest way to do this is to simply make things up, something most campaigns would never consider, but which Zuckerberg made clear in congressional testimony this week his platform would happily enable. Companies like Facebook and Google force us to present voters with a world that is black and white, in which all nuance is distraction, and in which civic engagement is something that can be done from your phone for just $1 (Unless you'd like to make this a monthly recurring donation? Your support has never been more crucial!). This does not an informed, healthy democracy make.

Political ads are not even good for the companies that serve them. On a quarterly earnings call the same day as Dorsey's announcement, Zuckerberg estimated that political ads run by candidates would make up just 0.5% of Facebook's 2020 revenue. Assuming similar performance to the previous 12 months, in which Facebook earned $66 billion, this would be about $330 million in political ad revenue.

In exchange, Facebook has earned itself years of bad PR, increased regulatory risk as congressional leaders are beginning to see it as a national security problem, and even existential risk as leading presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has vowed to break up the company if elected. All over revenues that hardly even justify the opportunity cost of Zuckerberg's hours of preparation for congressional hearings.

So who benefits from these kinds of ads? Those who want to create a chaotic information environment in the United States in which facts are subjective, reality is ephemeral and the only information you can trust comes from the people manipulating social media to feed it to you. It is therefore no surprise that one of the first organizations to condemn Dorsey's decision was the Russian state-sponsored media outlet Russia Today.

Presented with a choice between minuscule revenues and existential risk, between patching a bug in American democracy and abetting Russian propaganda, Dorsey made a wise choice for both his bottom line and his country. Zuckerberg and Pichai would do well to follow his lead.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Coronavirus live updates: Scientists say new nasal spray can help fight COVID; college football season in shambles; Texas passes 500K cases
Coronavirus live updates: Scientists say new nasal spray can help fight COVID; college football season in shambles; Texas passes 500K cases

Scientists in California develop say their nasal spray "AeroNabs" can help against COVID. Texas surpasses 500K cases. Latest news.

Fact check: Viral post claiming Dems didn
Fact check: Viral post claiming Dems didn't wear masks at John Lewis' funeral uses photo from 2015

A viral post falsely claims Democrats were maskless at Rep. John Lewis' funeral but actual photos of the event show what really happened.

Court dismisses Genius lawsuit over lyrics-scraping by Google
Court dismisses Genius lawsuit over lyrics-scraping by Google

A state court has dismissed a high-profile case showing unsportsmanlike conduct by Google, which was caught red-handed using lyrics obviously scraped from Genius. Unfortunately for the latter, the complaints amount to a copyright violation - which wasn't what the plaintiffs alleged, sinking the case. The lawsuit, filed in December, accused Google of violating Genius's terms of use and unjustly enriching itself by scraping lyrics on the site to be displayed on searches for songs.

Explainer: How the U.S. could block WeChat and TikTok from Americans
Explainer: How the U.S. could block WeChat and TikTok from Americans

It would mark the first time the United States has attempted to shut down widely used mobile internet apps. How would the U.S. go about blocking access to TikTok and WeChat? The administration could order smartphone software giants Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google to remove WeChat and TikTok from their app stores.

J.P. Morgan: These 2 FAANG Stocks Still Look Like Compelling Buys
J.P. Morgan: These 2 FAANG Stocks Still Look Like Compelling Buys

The Wall Street heavyweights and titans of tech, who are they? FAANG stocks. We're talking about Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, the giants that make up over 20% of the S&P 500's market cap. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, these stocks have experienced remarkable rallies, with the run-ups culminating in record highs. What's behind this surge? Part of it has to do with the fact that the stay-at-home climate has been good for business. Accelerating the shift to online, e-Commerce, streaming and cloud services have been some of the key beneficiaries of the crisis.However, given this incredible charge forward, do FAANG stocks still have more room to grow? According to J.P. Morgan,...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Economy