Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign engaged in a huge voter suppression effort in order to deter 3.5 million black people from voting, it has been claimed.
According to an investigation by Channel 4 News, black voters were disproportionately targeted by the campaign with negative Facebook ads designed to reduce turnout for Hilary Clinton in 2016.
Leaked data is alleged to show how Facebook ads were targeted by the President’s successful 2016 election campaign.
The campaign classified millions of voters into different ‘audiences’ – which could then be used to target different types of ads.
For example, strong supporters of each candidate were marked “Core Trump” or “Core Clinton”.
Less reliable voters were marked as “GOTV” – or “Get Out The Vote” if they were leaning towards Trump, “Persuasion” if they were swing voters, and “Deterrence”, if they were likely to support Clinton.
Analysis of the “Deterrence” segment of the database showed black voters were disproportionately identified and classified, according to Channel 4 News.
Black voters made up just 13% of the voters that were identified in the database, but 29% of the Deterrence group.
And the targeting of Facebook ads in this way may have been crucial to the result.
Channel 4 News report that they analysed data from the key swing state of Wisconsin, where in 2016 turnout among Black voters plunged by 19%.
Despite being just 5.4% of the population, Black voters constituted 17% of the ‘Deterrence’ group, and 35% of all Black voters in the state were marked for ‘Deterrence’.
The ‘Persuasion’ segment was 75.1% white, and just 1.8% Black.
The Trump campaign spent £44 million on Facebook ads alone during 2016.
They posted almost six million different versions of highly targeted messages, which were pumped directly into the feeds of target voters across America, helped by a Facebook employee embedded within the Trump campaign.
But many of the ads were so called ‘dark posts’, which could vanish from recipients’ feeds once a campaign stopped paying for them.
The platform offered no ‘Ad Library’ at the time, meaning there was no public record of the ads, or who payed for them.
It’s not possible to say which ads were targeted to the ‘deterrence’ group.
The Trump campaign itself has categorically stated that it did not target African Americans.
Brad Parscale, the campaign’s 2016 digital director told PBS Frontline: “I would say I’m nearly 100 percent sure we did not run any campaigns that targeted even African Americans.”
But Channel 4 say confidential documents reveal the campaign targeted a video featuring Hillary Clinton referring to young black people as “super predators” at African American voters.
Jamal Watkins, Vice President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said: “The thing that’s shocking slash troubling about this is that there’s this category of suppression.
“That ‘Deterrence’ part. So, we use data – similar to voter file data – but it’s to motivate, persuade and encourage folks to participate. We don’t use the data to say who can we deter and keep at home. That just seems, fundamentally, it’s a shift from the notion of democracy.
“It’s not ‘may the best candidate win’ at that point it’s ‘may the best well-funded machine suppress voters and keep them at home thereby rigging the election so that someone can win’.”
He added: “I don’t believe Facebook has fully disclosed their role, and fully disclosed the types of ads that were run, who was involved and literally how they may have been embedded in, say, the Trump campaign to make this all come to life.
“Facebook is a very profitable platform. It reaches billions of folks every day. It doesn’t need this kind of money. If it were to monitor and check these suppressive ads and say this is not the platform for this type of misinformation disinformation suppression tactics, Mark Zuckerberg would still live well, and eat well.”
A Facebook spokesperson said: “Since 2016, elections have changed and so has Facebook – what happened with Cambridge Analytica couldn’t happen today.
“We have 35,000 people working to ensure the integrity of our platform, created a political ads library … and have protected more than 200 elections worldwide.
“We also have rules prohibiting voter suppression and are running the largest voter information campaign in American history.”
The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the White House did not provide any comment to Channel 4 News prior to broadcast.