Over just two weeks in September, a limited-liability company calling itself News for Democracy spent almost $400,000 on more than 16 million impressions for a network of 14 Facebook pages that hadn’t existed until August. This represented the second-largest political ad buy on Facebook for the period, trailing only Beto O’Rourke’s Texas Senate campaign and substantially overshadowing the third-place spender, the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to an analysis by a team at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, led by Damon McCoy.
From May 7 to October 16—the period that Facebook’s newly created archive of political advertising covers—News for Democracy paid from $1.2 million to $4.6 million to create, at a minimum, 45 million impressions through more than 2,600 ads. (Facebook’s data offer ranges, rather than precise amounts, of dollars spent or impressions generated. In calculating how many people were shown ads, McCoy’s team took the low number of the range, so the number of people who saw these ads is certainly higher, and possibly much higher.)
The biggest of News for Democracy’s ad buys went to pages with names like Women for Civility (8 million impressions), Better With Age (7.2 million), Our Flag Our Country (5.7 million), Living Free (5.4 million), and The Holy Tribune (4.2 million). Most of the ads consisted of one-minute videos, done in that Facebook style with text sliding around over footage making a single point. The ads were shown to two very specific groups of people: women ages 55 to 64 in Arkansas and mostly male Kansans under the age of 44.
Despite the God-and-country nature of the page names, the actual content was left-leaning. A series of ads running on Tuesday showed different people describing their health challenges and how their health insurance was helping them. In one ad, an older woman describes her daughter’s struggles with diabetes. In another, a young father talks about his autoimmune diseases. Their message is the same: Republicans want to take away protections for people with preexisting medical conditions, and that would hurt the nice, relatable people in the videos.