Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 Campaign Manager, Calls Facebook Ad Policy “A Gift”

November 28, 2018
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by Priyanka Boghani Digital Reporter & Producer

In 2016, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital media director, was credited with using Facebook to help propel Donald Trump to victory by targeting thousands of campaign ads to bring voters to the polls.

Now, Parscale is the campaign manager for President Trump’s re-election. And he says that recent changes implemented by Facebook to make political ads more transparent will help him in the 2020 campaign.

“It’s kind of like a gift,” he told FRONTLINE in an interview for The Facebook Dilemma.

Facebook announced the changes to political ads earlier this year, after it found that Russian operatives had paid about $100,000 on ads that promoted political messages and fake Facebook groups in an effort to spread disinformation and amplify divisions among American voters. Political and social issue-based ads now show a “paid for by” label, and Facebook created a public, searchable archive of such ads, allowing anyone to view them.

“It will just save me a bunch of money, because now everybody get[s] to see all my ads for free,” Parscale said about the political ads archive.

During an extended interview, conducted on Aug. 8, Parscale talked about how Facebook was a vital part of the 2016 Trump campaign because it allowed then-candidate Trump to “speak directly to camera,” and it “was controlling the eyeballs of most places that we needed to win.” He described the Trump 2016 campaign’s playbook for Facebook advertising in detail.

“We made, I think, over 5.9 million ads between [the] convention and general election and Election Day,” he said. “We might write 50,000 ads that only have very, very small nuances changed about them.”

Parscale said Facebook’s advertising tool called Custom Audiences allowed the campaign to microtarget the people who were most likely to show up to vote.

“The audiences themselves were chosen through the Republican National Committee’s data they have been building over six years to try to make sure that they had the right data for the 2016 election,” he said. The Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee collect voter data available from different states. Parscale described a process by which voter data is combined with polling data and consumer data collected by data brokers.

“When you decide you’re going to run for president of the United States, now you have hard-matched data with consumer data, matched with voter history, matched with very comprehensive polling data from all over the country,” Parscale said.

By the time all those pieces are put together, then you can actually pull out an audience. You can say, ‘I want to find everybody in this portion of Ohio that believes that the wall needs to be built, that thinks that possibly trade reform needs to happen,’ and so we want to show them [an ad] on trade and immigration.”

Parscale called another Facebook ad tool, Lookalike Audiences, “one of the most powerful features of Facebook.” He said the tool allowed the campaign to expand its audience and find people they didn’t already know. “Facebook Lookalike Audiences are pretty amazing. I mean, it’s why the platform’s great.”

FRONTLINE correspondent James Jacoby asked Parscale about reports that the campaign had microtargeted African-American neighborhoods with negative ads. In October 2016, Bloomberg quoted an anonymous senior official in the Trump campaign saying, “We have three major voter suppression operations underway.” The official said they were aimed at white liberals, young women and African Americans. The article said an ad reminding voters of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 comments about “superpredators” was being shown to discourage black voters.

“I would say I’m nearly 100 percent sure we did not run any campaigns that targeted… African-Americans, which people think is crazy,” Parscale said. He elaborated, “I don’t think we ever ran the superpredator ad. We had — I guess one of my staff members — we told them to be creative, make whatever they wanted, and then we would say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to things. I guess this reporter thinks he saw an ad that was an ad where she was talking about being a superpredator. I don’t think we actually ran the superpredator ad.”

Parscale ascribed the mounting criticism of Facebook to its role in helping Trump get elected. “No one ever complained about Facebook for a single day until Donald Trump was president,” he said, pointing out that the Obama campaign used similar strategies. “The only reason anyone is upset about this is that Donald Trump is president and used a system that was all built by liberals,” Parscale said.

Asked about whether he would be paying Facebook again for the Trump 2020 re-election campaign, Parscale said, “Most likely, if that’s where people’s eyeballs are.”

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