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Zurawik: New Facebook feature shows Hogan dominance in social media ad spending

Larry Hogan ad featuring Arthur "Squeaky" Kirk, of the Ruth M. Kirk Rec Center in Baltimore, endorsing the governor for another term. It is part of a major Facebook buy, according to a new report from the social media giant.
Larry Hogan ad featuring Arthur "Squeaky" Kirk, of the Ruth M. Kirk Rec Center in Baltimore, endorsing the governor for another term. It is part of a major Facebook buy, according to a new report from the social media giant. (Courtesy of of Hogan campaign)

A new Facebook feature aimed at providing more information on political ad dollars shows Gov. Larry Hogan outspending challenger Ben Jealous in the Maryland governor’s race by a rate of more than 60 to 1 since May in ads on Facebook and Instagram.

The feature, “Ad Archive Report,” was added Tuesday in response to widespread complaints about Facebook running ads during the 2016 presidential campaign with little or no transparency on where the ads were coming from. Facebook has made several moves in an attempt to avoid government regulation.

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For decades I have argued against any form of increased government regulation of media. But Facebook's dirty dance with the Russians in election 2016 proves it can't be trusted to police itself.

The new data from the social media giant shows that the Hogan campaign spent $167,342 on 173 ads from May to Oct. 20. The disclaimer on those: Larry Hogan for Governor, R. Christopher Rosenthal, Treasurer.

Meanwhile, $2,440.00 was spent on 137 ads for Jealous during that same period, according to Facebook. The disclaimer on those: Friends of Ben Jealous, Jason Small, Treasurer.

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Hogan also had $12,106 worth of ads that ran without a disclaimer, according to the Facebook report. Jealous had eight ads for about $114 that ran without a disclaimer.

Last week alone, the Hogan campaign spent $18,521.00 on 51 ads, according to the report, and it had not even launched its major closing ad campaign, which I wrote about last week.

The Hogan campaign is about to unleash a million-dollar-plus final TV push that is as powerful, focused and skillfully crafted a political ad campaign as I have ever seen anywhere at the state level.

Less than $100 is the figure given by the report for ads on Facebook in support of Jealous during that same period of Oct. 14 to 20.

A major media push from Team Hogan started Monday with a TV ad buy that a campaign official confirmed would be at least $1 million.

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The ads now running on TV, which feature Hogan’s battle with cancer in 2015 and African-Americans in Baltimore endorsing the governor, were also launched on Facebook Monday.

Demographic data provided in the new report show some have already been seen by as many as 10,000 people across a wide span of ages. I was surprised to see the extent of viewing by younger adults on some of the Facebook ads run on behalf of Hogan since May.

Overall, $256 million has been spent on Facebook and Instagram ads since May, according to the report.

Texas Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke leads the spending with $5.3 million on Facebook in his battle to unseat Ted Cruz. He is outspending the incumbent by a ratio of about 10 to 1.

As someone who has called for regulation of political advertising on social media platforms, I welcome the archive as a step in the right direction.

But that comes with a major caveat: The data in the new Facebook feature is self-reported by the campaigns.

Facebook needs to do a lot more in terms of setting up a gate keeping system to verify some of the data. But most of all it needs to start thinking of its audience as citizens instead of consumers before I will back off on the need for regulation.

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