Facebook is giving more details about who is spending the most money on political ads on its platform, and the leader this election cycle is … Facebook.
Facebook calculated its political ad spending to be $12 million, for ads on the social network and Instagram. Those ads were, in general, related to getting out the vote and the latest changes to the platform to clean up political messaging. Aside from Facebook's own media spending estimates, the company also disclosed Tuesday the exact amount of money spent by candidates and special interest groups since May by releasing a new version of its political ads archive, which now has specific spending information.
The data show that Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas, who is running for the Senate against Ted Cruz, spent $5.3 million since May buying 6,000 ads, the highest amount spent by any candidate, so far. Facebook also revealed the amount of political ad spending on the platform as a whole since May—$256 million on 1.7 million ads. Facebook generates more than $50 billion in ad revenue a year, so the amount attributed to political ads is relatively small.
The archive is for researchers and watchdogs to keep tabs on digital media spending, especially during major elections like this year's midterms.
The new archive also shows that President Trump is a prolific advertiser. The president has two accounts attributed to his name, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and Donald J. Trump for President.
Those two accounts have spent $4.8 million since May, buying more than 100,000 ads. This shows that Trump's digital advertising team is creating thousands of highly targeted ads, almost 20 times more than the number of ads O'Rourke has run.
As a report just released by New York University's Tandon School of Engineering explained: "President Donald Trump and his PAC registered the largest number of ads of any candidate, due in large part to the preponderance of small, micro-targeted advertising. Virtually all were aimed at raising funds."
There is still even more that the research community would like from Facebook, however, including what zip-codes an ad campaign targeted and what interests the target audience shared.
Google and Twitter have all built similar ad archives, too, giving more insight than ever into the marketing spending of candidates and special-interest groups. The platforms were reacting to the problems from 2016 when fraudulent accounts anonymously spread disinformation, including through advertising. The platforms also set new rules for buying political ads in the U.S., requiring proof of identification and residence in the U.S.
Facebook has had some hiccups deploying its ad archive, including run-ins with brands like Walmart when it accidentally classified its non-political ads as political. Earlier this month, a number of brands, including Papa John's, Nike and Reebok were mistakenly funneled into the archive, too. There is no penalty associated with being labeled a political advertiser, but brands would generally prefer to steer clear of earning that distinction. Facebook removes the brands if it finds they were erroneously labeled.