A top Facebook employee who ran the platform’s ad organization during the 2016 election dismissed claims that President Trump won the election because of Russian misinformation campaigns, stating that “he got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”
Andrew Bosworth, now the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote in an internal memo published December 30 and obtained by The New York Times, that while he felt Facebook was “responsible” for Trump’s election, it was not due to Russian meddling.
“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes,” Bosworth said of the Trump campaign’s efforts. “They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.”
Following the aftermath of the 2016 election, Democrats were quick to jump on claims that nefarious actors had swung the election towards Trump, after Facebook revealed it had shut down several hundred accounts believed to be created by a Russian company linked to the Kremlin, which was used to buy $100,000 in ads to exacerbate social divisions in the electorate.
In a September 2017 letter to the FEC, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and other lawmakers urged the agency to create new guidelines to stop “disruption in our democratic process” and “to preserve the integrity of our election law and our elections.”
Hillary Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow after the release of the Mueller report, which found claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to be unfounded, that “the real story is the Russians interfered in our election.”
But Bosworth — who caveated that he is liberal and “donated the max” to Clinton in 2016 — argued that Russian meddling only reached “an infinitesimal fraction of the overall content people saw” in the election and was mostly “economically motivated.”
“$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform,” he said.
Bosworth also dismissed allegations that opposition-research firm Cambridge Analytica, which improperly used Facebook data to reach voters, had any effect on Trump’s victory, calling its 2016 efforts “a total non-event.”
“They were snake oil salespeople. The tools they used didn’t work, and the scale they used them at wasn’t meaningful,” he wrote.
Bosworth closed his post by endorsing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s defense of political advertising on the platform, after hundreds of employees criticized the decision.
“If we change the outcomes without winning the minds of the people who will be ruled then we have a democracy in name only,” Bosworth wrote. “If we limit what information people have access to and what they can say then we have no democracy at all.”