The investigation goes digital: Did someone point Russia to specific online targets?

Philip Bump writes: There are two benefits for political campaigns with the social-media-spawned ability to target ads to smaller universes of people.

The first is that they can tailor a very specific message to a very specific population, like pitching a drilled-down policy position to, say, Hispanic men under age 45 who are farmers near Fresno, Calif.

The second is that, because not very many people will see that message, the odds that it rises to national attention are small. You can’t hide a television ad. If you buy a television ad on cable or on a broadcast network, someone is going to see it, and, if newsworthy, it will end up on the news.

Before social media — most specifically, Facebook — campaigns had to balance cost, reach and targeting through spending on direct mail, field programs and television. Now, they can pick out individuals from a massive crowd with a tailor-made video ad for relatively little cost — with much less of a chance that their opponents find out it ever happened.

The presidential campaign of Donald Trump embraced this explicitly. In October of last year, Bloomberg News reported that the campaign’s digital arm, run by Brad Parscale, would target possible Hillary Clinton voters for an inverse pitch. The Trump campaign would not show them ads making the case for voting for Trump; instead, they showed videos that they hoped would dampen enthusiasm for Clinton — and get the voters to stay home. [Continue reading…]

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