Big election business: Democratic candidates, even critical of Facebook, pour millions into platform

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Though many Democrats have decried the role of social media giant Facebook in spreading ‘fake news’ during the 2016 presidential election, the party’s new debate rules are driving candidates to shovel millions into the platform.

Even as a growing number of 2020 hopefuls get in line to suggest breaking up the tech firm – arguing it wields too much power and influence, and that it helps to spread misinformation online – their campaigns continue to spend lavishly on Facebook ads.

In the last 90 days, billionaire-investor-turned-candidate Tom Steyer has spent $3.1 million on some 3,200 Facebook ads, blowing the next largest Democratic social media spender, Kirsten Gillibrand, out of the water by over $1 million, according to the site’s ad library. In the same period, several top Democratic candidates also spent in excess of $1 million on Facebook ads, including Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

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The more recent figures are even starker in Steyer’s case, who, as of this week, is spending $140,000 on ads every single day, many of them pleading for a contribution of just one dollar.

While it may seem odd to blow millions in exchange for a dollar at a time, the candidates’ spending habits are propelled by the Democratic Party’s debate rules – which mandate “donor thresholds,” or a certain number of individual contributions, before a candidate can step onto a debate stage. The newest requirements, however, are feeding the social media goliath and further entrenching its place in American politics: precisely what many Democratic lawmakers and candidates have criticized since the last election.

Since the first two presidential debates in June and July, the Democratic Party has significantly tightened its rules for who qualifies. Before the third debate, set for late August, candidates must receive donations from 130,000 individuals – doubling the number from earlier debates – and poll at two percent or higher in four different approved surveys.

For Steyer in particular, the social media spending spree appears to be having an effect, announcing this week that his campaign had met the party’s stricter donor threshold.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, meanwhile, has spent the most out of any candidate on Facebook ads over the last three months, topping the list with over $3.5 million.

Facebook has come under fire in the aftermath of the 2016 election with Democrats blaming the social media behemoth for Trump’s win, arguing the website allowed massive privacy breaches of user data, and provided a place for “trolls” to spread hate speech and “fake news.” The company was recently hit with the largest privacy-related fine in world history, totaling $5 billion – but if presidential hopefuls continue their opulent spending on ads, perhaps the penalty won’t be so hard to pay after all.

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