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Facebook’s New Message To Political Advertisers Is All About Protecting The 2020 Election

Forget 2016.

Posted on November 25, 2019, at 3:32 p.m. ET

Alexander Drago / Reuters

For Facebook, last cycle’s liabilities are this cycle’s selling points.

Seeking to regain trust after the 2016 election, Facebook stood before political marketers last week with a new message: We’re paying attention this time.

The company gathered more than 100 political operatives at the Long View Gallery in Washington, DC, last Thursday night, seeking to diminish concerns that Facebook had become a high-risk place to conduct political activity. Over the past two and a half years, the tech giant said, it’s taken measures to avoid a repeat of its past nightmares. By the time the evening was over, there was little doubt that Facebook's pitch to political marketers is now all about safety.

“We’ve learned lessons from 2016, and have seen threats evolve, ensuring that our defenses stay ahead of those efforts, making it harder to use our platform for election interference,” the company said in a marketing handout obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Facebook seems to have scrapped its traditional pitch to political marketers, which emphasized its ability to reach and persuade voters with targeted messaging. For instance: A case study on how former Florida governor Rick Scott used Facebook for marketing, since buried on the company’s website, took credit for tipping an election: “Its message reached 62% of the target audience,” the study said, “bringing in more Hispanic votes and working as a deciding factor in Scott’s re-election.”

Instead, the company is now emphasizing its technology to prevent voter suppression, its use of artificial intelligence to stop fake account creation, and its teams that go after bad actors.

“While it was a very interesting presentation, it felt very ‘face-saving’ in the shadow of Google's recent changes to their targeting practices,” one person in attendance told BuzzFeed News. “Facebook said that they had nothing new to announce at this reception, and at the present time they had no plans to change the targeting system for Facebook ads.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

The company may still make major changes to its advertising policies. Facebook’s advertising team is currently discussing changes, including a potential targeting rollback. A Facebook spokesperson recently told BuzzFeed News that “nothing is off the table.”

Facebook’s handouts also detailed the establishment of a dedicated team ahead of the 2020 election to conduct risk assessments, analyze threats, and look for imposter accounts. “We will never be perfect,” the company said in its marketing handout.

Further materials also detailed Facebook’s voter registration efforts and its initiative to increase voter turnout:

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