Republican consultants have no plans to shift their clients’ spending away from Facebook despite conservative rancor over the social media company’s perceived bias.
Facebook’s political favoritism has been a hot topic in consulting circles since news broke that the company’s editorial curators reportedly suppressed articles from conservative news sites on topics popular on the right from its “trending” news section and promoted articles that weren’t equally popular. The company has denied what it called “anonymous allegations.”
Still, the story, which originated on the tech blog Gizmodo, had Facebook doing damage control with conservatives. It held a California summit meeting Wednesday at its Silicon Valley headquarters with “more than a dozen leading conservatives,” according to a Facebook post by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who struck a conciliatory tone.
“The reality is, conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook,” he wrote on Wednesday. “Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world.”
The confab went a long way with Targeted Victory’s Zac Moffatt. After attending the meeting, he commended Facebook “for being the only one of the major tech groups in Silicon Valley that’s willing to have conversations like this.”
In advance of the summit, Republican consultants had done some minor saber rattling. Vincent Harris tweeted that Facebook needed to be transparent about its internal processes. “Pointing to exciting use of platform isn’t answering the q’s,” he wrote.
Harris reiterated his call for transparency at Facebook to C&E, and warned that without it the company could be “branded as a tool of the left, or a biased platform. That I know in turn would lead conservatives to look elsewhere to spend their time, and in turn, their money.”
For now, Harris noted that Facebook remains the site “where average voters spend the most time and attention.
“Until that changes,” he said, “we will continue recommending to clients and building advertising budgets that reflect this.”
West Coast Republican digital consultants were equally sanguine.
“I think reducing Facebook advertising spend for this reason would be misguided,” said Aaron Ginn, co-founder of the Lincoln Initiative, a collective of technologists that help conservative campaigns and causes.
“Most of the complaints and concerns are focused on community guideline policies and the trending news feature. Both of these include some form of human error and choice. The core edgerank algorithm (the core product of Facebook) so far has not been criticized.”
Ginn, who’s based in San Francisco, said the controversy stemmed from the views of Facebook’s editorial staff who curate the trending topics, not the company’s politics.
“Facebook is in the business of recommending content that you want to look at,” he said. “Inserting bias into their content filter and recommender would be difficult and inflict self-harm on the product.”
Phillip Stutts, the GOP digital consultant behind Go BIG Media, Inc., said he had no plans to curtail his clients’ Facebook ad spends over the bias controversy.
“Facebook is the best targeting advertising platform available,” he said. “Older men and women vote and they are the largest segment joining Facebook right now. It would be political malpractice to our candidates to not use it.”
GOP digital consultant Ian Patrick Hines said that while the news was shocking, he could understand how it might have unfolded.
“Having worked at a nonpartisan platform company myself, I know firsthand that it’s possible for individual employees to have political opinions while also maintaining their employer’s neutrality,” said Hines, who previously worked at NationBuilder.
“It’s not in Facebook’s self-interest to manipulate news coverage and public debate. They know that, and that’s why they’re moving so quickly to quell even the appearance of bias.”
Even if Republican consultants wanted to prove a point, Hines added, Facebook’s “data and ad targeting tools are unmatched.”
In fact, that gap between Facebook and it’s competitors could get even bigger. The company revealed this week it plans to start selling “in-stream” and “in-article” video ads across websites including Mashable, Daily Mail and USA Today Sports Media Group. The move, which was seen as a way for the company to better compete with Alphabet, could mean even more campaign dollars are spent with Facebook this cycle.