Facebook Blocks Voter-Targeting Method Pioneered by Obama Campaign

December 1, 2014

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When it released an app that helped supporters target their friends with pro-Obama material, the president’s re-election campaign pioneered a way for political candidates to reach voters through Facebook. But as Yahoo! News reported on Nov. 17, Facebook will prevent future campaigns from doing the same thing, blocking one of the most sophisticated social-targeting efforts ever undertaken.

Teddy Goff was Obama’s digital director in 2012 and oversaw the work that helped the campaign gain 45 million Facebook followers that year. His team used Facebook and other tools to register more than a million voters online and to raise $690 million online in 2011 and 2012.

More than 1 million Obama supporters installed the campaign’s Facebook app, and most agreed to share their Facebook “friends” lists with the campaign, which concluded that younger Americans were suspicious of advertising but open to messages from friends and acquaintnces. Facebook’s changes, which will become permanent on April 30, 2015 and which it reportedly designed in response to privacy concerns, will make it impossible for future campaigns to use the targeted sharing tool, Goff said.

In a blog post, Facebook engineering manager Jeffrey Spehar wrote: “So we’ve updated Facebook Login so that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list.”

But Stu Trevelyan, CEO of NGP VAN, the top software tool for Democratic campaigns, said there are still ways to “track relationships in non-Facebook ways.”  — Greg Beaubien

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