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😐 @LuluLemew
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Cambridge Analytica’s Real Role in Trump’s Dark Facebook Campaign thedailybeast.com/cambridge-anal… via @thedailybeast
Now new data has opened a small window into Trump’s social media machinery, and in particular the role played by the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica.
Public statements and insider accounts have painted a muddled and contradictory picture on whether Trump’s Fb campaign targeted voters using Cambridge’s vast store of dubiously acquired data, once described by the company as containing 400 data points on 230 million Americans.
Now a NY digital marketing consultant has unearthed a trove of digital artifacts from Trump’s social media campaign that provides the first hard evidence that Team Trump made continuous use of audience lists created by CA to target a portion of its so-called “dark ads” on Fb 😈
The ads were deployed from July 2016 through the end of the election—and beyond, to the inauguration in January 2017.
Trump 2016 campaign official confirmed those findings to The Daily Beast, but claimed that Cambridge Analytica built the audience lists from the RNC’s database of voters and not its internal data store.
The Trump campaign has disputed the story, and no such ads have ever surfaced publicly. But few dispute that Facebook’s system carried the potential for such abuse.
Under pressure this year Facebook created a tool allowing any user to look up past and current political ads regardless of the targeting, but the tool does not extend back to the 2016 election, and Facebook has resisted calls to make ads from the presidential race public.
But some traces remain.

Emily Las, a digital marketer/former VP at Mastercard, has spent the last year extracting remnants of Trump’s Fb campaign through &beyond 11/8/16.

So far, she’s unearthed 1,200+ tracking links for different Trump ads, & live content for 100’s of the ads.
Every tracking link carries a DNA strand of data about the overall campaign in the form of UTM (“Urchin Tracking Module”) codes which allow an advertiser to track an ad’s performance.
The UTM parameters are a kind of digital hobo’s code, obscure to the consumers who click on them, but mostly legible to anyone steeped in digital marketing, as Las has been for years.
She’s been dissecting her collection of 1,200 links under a microscope and breaking out every data point in a meticulous spreadsheet. “When the RNC took over you can tell it becomes a more sophisticated operation,” she said. “They’re tracking every little element of the ad."
Over time, Las has developed a deep picture of some aspects of Trump’s Facebook campaign, details like which technology partners Trump used at various points in the campaign, and what the intended purpose of each ad was.
The ads in her collection were predominantly coded for fundraising, under a handful of industry standard subcategories.

So-called “retention” ads, for example, were deployed to encourage past donors to donate again.
Anther subcategory called “prospecting” refers to ad buys designed to lure targets into providing their email address for the campaign’s list, which is now a valuable commodity in itself.
Las’ data suggests ersatz petition drives were Trump’s primary hook for this data collection, & campaign’s prospecting cont’d well after Nov8. In the last year, prospecting ads have sent users to petitions to end “chain migration” & support Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The most intriguing tidbits in the UTM codes are those that categorize the Fb “audience” being targeted (set of users picked to receive a certain ad, or to serve as a template for Facebook’s “lookalike audience” matching feature.)
💥 In about 10% of her tracking links, the audience is described as “CambridgeAudience” or “CambridgeAnalytica.”
Reminder
The Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica nearly $6 million in 2016. Campaign officials have said $5 million of that money was earmarked for TV ads, and that the company itself was only paid about $800,000.
Cambridge Analytica, Nix said, “did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy.”
As for what Cambridge’s team actually did, Parscale said they “mainly ran polling, visualization, and support staff for all of the things we needed to do.” He emphasized again that he didn’t “hire Cambridge Analytica… for any of their data.”
Parscale’s portrait of the Cambridge team as de facto Trump employees doesn’t fit easily with the evidence uncovered by Las, which shows a steady stream of ads targeted to “Cambridge” audiences.
The Cambridge references are found in 120 out of 1,200 ad links, spread evenly from July 2016 to January 2017, when a slew of retention ads used inauguration tickets and memorabilia as a dangle. Oopsies.
An official from Trump’s 2016 campaign, speaking to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity, confirmed that these links were for ads targeted by Cambridge Analytica.
But the official said the audience lists were built in San Antonio by Cambridge workers who didn’t use their company’s data. Instead, the underlying “first person” data came from the RNC’s list and the Trump campaign’s internal database, code-named Alamo.
Cambridge’s Oczkowki, who’s now working for Trump 2020 through his own firm, has backed up that claim following Cambridge’s scandals. Prior to those scandals, though, he explicitly described Cambridge’s dataset as part of the Trump operation.
In a Dec 2016 Google roundtable discussion, Oczkowki expounded on the complexity of bootstrapping Trump’s social media campaign from three disparate data sources, including Cambridge Analytica’s. c-span.org/video/?c463862…
“Combining those 3 things together, building partisanship models, 12 issue sets, the basic building blocks you need from a campaign.”

If Oczkowki misspoke, no one, including the RNC’s Gary Coby, Trump’s digital ads &fundraising director, and Parscale himself, corrected him.
The shifting storylines surrounding the most successful social media ad campaign in history is what sent Emily Las digging for clues last year.
“I’m still fixated on understanding 2016. I really wanted to know what they did, and the more information that came out the more that it didn't make sense to me. And I thought, nobody’s going to tell me, so I'm just going to build it up." - @emlas
Las was particularly intrigued by this ‘16 profile of Parscale. Bloomberg reported he was operating 3 highly-targeted voter suppression campaigns discouraging white liberals, young wmn & African Americans from turning out for Hillary on Election Day. bloomberg.com/news/articles/…
The effort reportedly included a dark post on Facebook consisting of a South Park-style animation titled “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.”
bloomberg.com/news/articles/…
In addn to the tracking links, @emlas found/doc’d 100s of Trump 2016 dark posts still alive deep in Fb servers. Hidden outside the reach of Fb’s search engine, not displayed on any timeline, the ads, incl nearly 500 distinct videos, are findable only by those who know the link.
So far there are no surprises in the ads—they don’t differ in tone from the Trump campaign’s overt messaging or Donald Trump’s public statements at rallies. Some, however, illustrate the A/B testing that Trump’s digital team touted in interviews.
Mid-August 2016, the campaign promoted a 7 day “Trump train” fundraising drive.

Two of the unearthed versions of the ads feature the text, "$7 million. In 7 days. Welcome to the #TrumpTrain. Fuelled by ... America."
A post-elec ad from 10/19/17 for a raffle to win dinner w DT...some Trumpets saw a vanilla ad, others saw the same video w “BREAKING NEWS” & a fake countdown timer warning the had less than 5min left to enter. It was actually set to close the next day. facebook.com/donaldtrump/vi…
Las, who is not a Trump supporter, forced herself to watch every variation of each of the recovered ads. “It’s like watching one long boring infomercial. This is just horrible quality. It’s cheesy." @emlas
But in all her sleuthing, Las hasn’t turned up any evidence of the supposed dark ad voter suppression campaign that first sent her down the tracking-link rabbit hole.
On this point, Las finds herself in rare agreement with the Trump campaign. “There's nothing in here that feels like it's about suppression,” she said. After a year of searching, “I don't think it exists.”
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