Racism

How Team Trump Micro-Targeted Black Voters for Suppression

SK Ashby
Written by SK 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.