Negative headlines. Congressional inquiries. Corporate apologies. The heightening scrutiny surrounding Facebook after it allowed Russian trolls and inflammatory political ads to spread on its network is the kind of thing companies would do anything to avoid. But don’t expect it to harm the tech giant’s bottom line. As the political world looks to apply the lessons of Donald Trump’s victory to future campaigns, one of the few clear conclusions is that Facebook played an outsized role in propelling the candidate to his improbable win. The company’s ability to affordably target hyper-specific audiences with little to no transparency gives it a distinct advantage over other forms of media, researchers and political operatives believe.
Political ads on Facebook have fueled controversy. They spread Russian propaganda and reportedly helped the Trump team suppress black support for Hillary Clinton and aided a conservative political action committee in targeting swing voters with scaremongering anti-refugee ads. Yet the backlash is unlikely to dissuade future campaigns from deploying one of Facebook’s most potent tools.
Even the threat of new regulation governing the disclosure rules for political ads on social media can’t stunt the company’s stock price, which continues to reach new heights.
If anything, the controversies appear to be functioning like a giant advertisement for the effectiveness of Facebook’s political advertising business.