In an internal memo obtained by The New York Times, top Facebook employee Andrew Bosworth explained that rumors of Russian meddling on social media in 2016 were wildly overexaggerated. In the memo, Bosworth denied that Putin’s trolls had much to do with Donald Trump’s election. Indeed, he credited Trump’s victory to the “single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”
Bosworth, far from a Trump supporter himself, said that while he felt guilty about Facebook’s role in putting him in the White House, he did not buy into the narrative that either Russia or Cambridge Analytica had any outsized influence on the site’s users.
“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes,” Bosworth said of the Trump campaign’s advertisements. “They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.”
In the wake of the 2016 election (and continuing to this day), Democrats have complained loudly that Facebook helped Trump “steal” the election away from Hillary Clinton. Pointing to Russian troll farms and shadowy Kremlin-linked companies that spent more than $100,000 on Facebook to denigrate Hillary Clinton and stir up political divisions, these Democrats have demanded that the FEC step in and regulate Facebook in order to prevent further foreign interference in 2020.
But Bosworth, who is an admitted admirer and donator to Clinton, said that the Russian social media meddling that caused such a ruckus in 2016 only represented “an infinitesimal fraction of the overall content people say.”
“$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform,” he said.
Bosworth went on to say that the idea of throwing paid political content off Facebook entirely was a nonstarter.
“If we change the outcomes without winning the minds of the people who will be ruled then we have a democracy in name only,” Bosworth wrote. “If we limit what information people have access to and what they can say then we have no democracy at all.”