Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign targeted 3.5 million African American voters in an attempt to make them stay home from the polls, according to a new investigative report. The news comes in what is shaping up to be a week of bad press for the president, just 38 days before the election.
U.K. news network Channel 4 reported that a large cache of data they obtained that was used by the Trump campaign on nearly 200 million American voters, the Black voters were categorized as a major part of the “deterrence” group -- or voters they wanted to keep out of polling places. Data used mined details on individual voters and their lives.
Civil Rights groups want Facebook to reveal the ads that Channel 4 says were tailored for specific audiences in 16 battleground states. The “deterrence” group was described by a Trump data scientist as one containing people the campaign hoped “don’t show up to vote,” according to the network.
Voters in this category were targeted with “dark adverts” on their Facebook timelines that did things like attack then-candidate Hillary Clinton and even continuously showed her using the “super predator” remark from a 1996 New Hampshire speech in reference to the 1994 Crime Bill. Republicans inferred in 2016 that she was saying this specifically in reference to African American youths, but her campaign denied this.
The data mining and use of social media was siphoned to places where Black voter turnout is important and could possibly have tipped the scales.
In Georgia, Blacks made up 61 percent of the “deterrence” category, although they make up 32 percent of the population. In North Carolina, Blacks were 46 percent of “deterrence” despite being 22 percent of the population.
For example, in Wisconsin, a battleground state that Trump won in 2016 by 30,000 votes, about 5.4 percent of voters are Black, but made up 17 percent of those marked as “deterrence.” This means 35 percent of Black voters in total were categorized in the group.
The data and algorithms came were developed by Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced company that was caught last year using dubious, if not nefarious, methods of data mining to win elections for candidates worldwide by getting unauthorized access to millions of people’s Facebook profiles.
“That is mind boggling,” said Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor in an interview with Channel 4. “I’m like shocked that they had in 2016 all the way down to ‘we need to deter that one.’ Somebody has worked this hard to strategically disenfranchise you. To discourage you. What it should tell people is the power...of their vote.”
The revelation that the Trump campaign has used the data for what is being called a voter suppression effort comes just a day after The New York Times released a bombshell investigative report of its own showing that Trump only paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and none in 10 of the past 15 years.
It is unclear how many of the ads were targeted at Black voters because Facebook has not revealed that information, Channel 4 says. But the Trump campaign reportedly spent $56 million on Facebook and ran ads 6 million times.
The Trump campaign denies targeting Blacks specifically. Channel 4 said that Brad Parscale, the campaign’s 2016 digital director told PBS newsmagazine “Frontline” that he is “nearly 100 percent sure we did not run any campaigns that targeted even African Americans.”
Facebook itself has faced massive criticism over the social media platform being used for negative political ads. Multiple calls have gone out for it to stop the advertisements. But the company says that what happened in the Cambridge Analytica scandal could not happen in 2020.
“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,” Facebook said in a statement to Channel 4. “We also have rules prohibiting voter suppression and are running the largest voter information campaign in American history.”
But Jamal Watkins NAACP vice president of civic engagement told Channel 4 he’s skeptical and feels Facebook should tell more about how it was involved.
“The thing that’s shocking/troubling about this is that there’s this category of suppression, that ‘Deterrence’ part, ” he said. “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’.
“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.”
(Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)