Facebook Charged Biden a Higher Price Than Trump for Campaign Ads. In swing states, Biden paid average ad rates of $34 compared with Trump's average of $17 in July and August.
When President Donald Trump wanted to reach out to older Arizona voters in August with the message "The RADICAL Left has taken over Joe Biden and the Democratic Party," with photos of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar, Facebook charged his campaign an estimated $14 for each 1,000 times the advertisement appeared in people's feeds.
A few days later, Biden targeted that same demographic with a message of his own, that he had a plan to expand Medicare and cut drug prices. But Facebook charged him a very different price—an estimated $91 per 1,000 views of his ad, more than six times what Trump's ad had cost.
That price difference wasn't an anomaly. The Markup analyzed every known Trump and Biden ad purchased between July 1, 2020, and Oct. 13, 2020, and found that Facebook has charged the presidential nominees wildly varying prices for their ads, with Biden paying, on average, nearly $2.50 more per 1,000 impressions than Trump.
The difference was especially stark in advertisements aimed primarily at Facebook users in swing states in July and August, where Biden's campaign paid an average of $34.34 per 1,000 views, more than double Trump's average of $16.55. During that period, Biden also paid more for ads that ran nationally and in other states—an average of $28.55 to Trump's $20.35.
Trump's price advantage in swing states disappeared in September, when the campaigns paid roughly similar prices. In October, Facebook began charging Biden slightly less than Trump.
However, over the course of tens of thousands of advertisements placed since July, Biden's higher average price means he has paid over $8 million more for his Facebook ads than he would have if he had been paying Trump's average price.
The sort of differential pricing for political advertising that The Markup found would be illegal or unconventional in other media. Federal laws require TV stations to charge candidates the same price—the lowest that they charge any advertiser—for ads. Some states forbid newspaper publishers to charge one candidate a higher price.
Digital strategists and campaign finance experts worry that the obscure way that Facebook determines what price to charge could give one side a leg up.
Candidates who can figure out how to game Facebook's ad system "get an advantage that other candidates wouldn't get—because it's opaque," Ann Ravel, a former Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission and current candidate for state senate in California, told The Markup.
Neither presidential campaign responded to The Markup's requests for comment.
Facebook defended its fluctuating ad pricing to The Markup. "This article reflects a misunderstanding of how digital advertising works. All ads, from all advertisers, compete fairly in the same auction. Ad pricing will vary based on the parameters set by the advertiser, such as their targeting and bid strategy," Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson, told The Markup in an emailed statement.
Osborne did not dispute any of our findings.
By Jeremy B. Merrill, The Markup, October 29, 2020
October 30, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. The Right constantly complains that Social Media discriminated against them, but here are dollar and cents proof that Joe got the short end of the FB stick. #BidenHarris2020