2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign outspent President Trump's re-election campaign on Facebook ads in late May despite the former vice president's recent criticism of the platform, highlighting candidates' heavy reliance on Facebook to reach voters.
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Biden's campaign spent $5.2 million on Facebook ads during the week on May 31, and the Trump campaign spent $2.4 million on Facebook ads for the same week, according to OpenSecrets.com, which cites data reported by Facebook and collected by the Wesleyan Media Project.
While the Trump campaign has spent about $5 billion more on Facebook ad spending since Jan. 1, Biden's campaign appears to be increasing its weekly Facebook ad budget; the campaign spent about $4 million more on ads on the platform during the last week of May than it did during prior weeks, indicating a change in marketing strategy.
Facebook reached 2.5 billion users in January; about 1.62 billion of those users visit the website every day. People over age 65 represent the platform's fastest-growing demographic as fewer teens are using the social media website every year, according to social media analytics and marketing company Sprout Social.
The former vice president's campaign published an open letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday pushing the tech giant to fact-check ads from politicians. A number of lawmakers have condemned Facebook's political ad policy, which exempts politicians' posts from being fact-checked by third parties, saying it encourages disinformation.
The letter also said Facebook should remove posts that spread false information, and that rule should be "applied to everyone, including President Trump — that prohibit threatening behavior and lies about how to participate in the election."
Zuckerberg has repeatedly defended the policy, however, saying it promotes free speech. In a Thursday response to Biden's letter, Facebook compared Trump's "executive order directing federal agencies to prevent social media sites from engaging in activities like fact-checking political statements" to Biden's "petition calling on us to do the exact opposite."
"Just as they have done with broadcast networks — where the US government prohibits rejecting politicians’ campaign ads — the people’s elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them," the company wrote. "There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."
Candidates are expected to spend more than $1 billion on digital media ads ahead of the 2020 election.
Experts warn that this ad-targeting system is still vulnerable to manipulation by foreign governments and domestic actors trying to influence the election, just as they did in 2016.
According to Facebook, Russia-connected accounts spent about $100,000 on Facebook ads during the 2016 presidential election. The ads seemed to fan division on polarizing issues such as gun control and race relations. That’s a fraction of the cost of a single 30-second spot on a major TV network.
But it was enough to stir up trouble. In response, Google, Facebook and Twitter instituted verification policies that require advertisers to confirm their identity using their organization’s tax identification number or other government ID. Twitter later banned all political ads.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.