How Team Trump Micro-Targeted Black Voters for Suppression

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

We already knew the Trump campaign and Republican party sought to discourage black Americans from voting in 2016 -- and we know it worked -- but how exactly did they do it?

Cambridge Analytica, the defunct campaign dirty tricksters, are back in the news again because the Trump campaign turned to them and Facebook to explicitly target black voters.

It's better late than never, I suppose, but Britain's Channel 4 news obtained the actual data the campaign used in 2016 (a database of 200 million voters) to micro-target and suppress black turnout. The strategy relied on flagging black people and other minorities in a database and then paying Facebook to serve specific ads to the group.

In 16 key battleground states, millions of Americans were separated by an algorithm into one of eight categories, also described as ‘audiences’, so they could then be targeted with tailored ads on Facebook and other platforms.

One of the categories was named ‘Deterrence’, which was later described publicly by Trump’s chief data scientist as containing people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote”. [...]

In Georgia, despite Black people constituting 32% of the population, they made up 61% of the ‘Deterrence’ category. In North Carolina, Black people are 22% of the population but were 46% of ‘Deterrence’. In Wisconsin, Black people constitute just 5.4% of the population but made up 17% of ‘Deterrence’.

The disproportionate categorising of Black Americans for ‘Deterrence’ is seen across the US.

Cambridge Analytica harvested this data from Facebook and then the Trump campaign paid Facebook to target these groups. Channel 4 reports that the team from Cambridge worked alongside a team from the Republican National Committee (RNC) so it's not as if this was exclusively a Trump campaign program; the whole Republican party was involved.

Facebook also had employees embedded within the Trump campaign who helped them navigate the system. And we already knew that, but this puts that in a whole new light, doesn't it?

Facebook made gobs of money by making the racial identity of users easily scraped from data and then selling voter suppression to users based on race. And that's not to mention all the money Facebook made from the flood of literal fake news and stories we saw in 2016.

If there's ever a sequel to The Social Network, it should follow how Mark Zuckerberg became one of the richest people in the world by enabling and profiting off the global rise of fascism. It's quite a story twist about a guy who got his start by creating an app called "Hot or Not" which allowed students at Harvard to grade the physical appearance of girls.

I had no idea all of this was going to happen, of course, but deleting my Facebook account in 2010 was easily one of the best decisions I ever made. I've only ever found new reasons not to use the platform ever again and no reason to go back.

  • muselet

    I really, really want to make this sort of activity illegal. Like twenty years in a federal penitentiary illegal.

    I don’t know how to go about doing it, though.

    For the time being, I’ll just repeat my mantra (“Facebook is evil!”) and leave it at that.


  • katanahamon

    Other pundits don’t help either..how many articles have you seen with the gist of “Joe Biden isn’t (helping, attracting, appeasing, bending over backwards etc etc) X minority or special interest!” I’m sorry, but, if X minority group can’t figure out that voting R is directly harming them, then they’re abjectly stupid. I believe articles like that are meant not as constructive but to deepen or instigate divides in the D voting base. Also, while each special interest has individual needs, this is definitely a time when “the needs of the many” are more important, and just because the right wing targets groups to try to divide the left, there really does need to be some personal responsibility to understand the platform or stand of Biden/Harris/overall Dem goals, not just “well, I won’t vote Biden because he hasn’t done X for me personally, he just doesn’t “excite” me.” That’s really bullshit. That’s what got us into this in the first place.

    • muselet

      Agreed to a point.

      If I were a member of an underrepresented minority (I’m a white, het, cis-male, so I’m not underrepresented in the slightest), I might be tempted to ask that age-old question, “What have you done for me lately?”

      After all, we all see special interests—defined however we wish—doing basically that to candidates, so why not do it on a larger scale? (I don’t condone this, but I do understand it.)

      However, I do agree this is a terrible time for anyone to try to leverage their support.