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Threads’ big political questions
Also inside: Democrats’ new online supervillain
Move over, BlueSky, Mastodon, Post, Notes, and whatever else: there’s a new Twitter-killer in town. On Wednesday night, Meta launched its new Twitter-like app called Threads. It’s a simple feed-based app that looks almost exactly like Twitter. Because it is linked to users’ Instagram accounts, it immediately received viral adoption from tens of millions of new users. In this week’s FWIW, we’ll look at how Threads could impact the political space, and the big questions Meta will have to answer in order for it to be successful.
Plus, we’ll have a quick look at one political figure who has become Democrats’ enemy number one in digital ads. Keep scrolling to find out who it is 👀
By the numbers
FWIW, political advertisers spent just over $9.2 million on Facebook and Instagram ads last week. That's a pretty large increase over previous weeks, likely due to end-of-quarter fundraising efforts. These were the top ten spenders nationwide:
President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign was the top-spending political advertiser on Facebook and Instagram last week, with the majority of their ad dollars going to grassroots fundraising efforts ahead of the June 30th FEC deadline. He’s far outspent Donald Trump on digital ads year to date, although Trump has been able to raise plenty of money online this year without investing heavily in advertising.
An organization called Digital Innovation for America - which appears to be a new FinTech industry lobbying group - has begun spending heavily on Facebook and Instagram ads. Whoever’s running their campaign, however, has screwed up pretty badly - some of the group’s ad creative and copy are mismatched and refer to the wrong members of Congress. Digital innovation indeed…
Meanwhile, political campaigns spent $1.14 million on Google and YouTube ads last week. Here were the top ten spenders:
A new Democratic-allied nonprofit called Protect Borrowers Action released a brilliant new video ad this week criticizing the Supreme Court’s gutting of Student Loan Forgiveness and tying the recent ruling to the court’s other attacks on our freedoms. It’s a must-watch:
…and on Snapchat, political campaigns and organizations in the United States have spent around $1.5 million on advertising in 2023. Here are the top ten spenders YTD:
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Your 2024 digital dispatch
FWIW, here’s how much money likely or confirmed 2024 presidential candidates have spent on Facebook + Google ads to date (1/1 - 7/1):
Francis Suarez’s Super PAC created a kind of weird AI chatbot that resembles a character from The Sims to give supporters canned responses to basic questions. If you know how much money they wasted on this…send us an email.
Asa Hutchinson told Hugh Hewitt that his campaign has only received donations from 5,000 donors so far. He needs 35,000 more unique donors in order to make next month’s debate. That’s going to be tough.
From around the internet
A Twitter user and “former Obama staffer” named Erica Marsh has become one of the most visible Democratic activists on the platform, gaining over 100k followers by sharing liberal hot takes on the biggest moments in politics. The Washington Post reports on what some of us have known all along: she’s not a real person.
Democrats running for the U.S. Senate raised tons of money in Q2 and began to release their fundraising numbers this week. Among the biggest fundraisers are: Adam Schiff (CA) at $8.1 million, Colin Allred (TX) at $6.2 million, Jon Tester (MT) at $5 million, Bob Casey (PA) at $4 million, and Tammy Baldwin (WI) at $3.2 million.
Speaking of fundraising, according to NBC News, 37% of registered voters have donated to a political campaign in the past two years, with Democrats maintaining a distinct advantage among that group.
The Biden campaign is hiring a Director of Email and SMS - a huge job that will be responsible for raising a historic amount of money. The downside: you have to move to Delaware! 😂 Check out the listing here >>
Threads is maybe, possibly going to be a thing
Move over, BlueSky, Mastodon, Post, Notes, and whatever else: there’s a new Twitter-killer in town. On Wednesday night, Meta launched its new Twitter-like app called Threads. It’s a simple feed-based app that looks almost exactly like Twitter. Because it is linked to users’ Instagram accounts, it immediately received viral adoption from millions of new users. Within 24 hours of going live in the app store, around 50 million people were on the platform posting 95 million times - making it the most rapidly downloaded app of all time.
Hungry for something new
People are hungry for a Twitter alternative, but so far the other options out there have failed to reach a critical mass of users. Since Threads is tied to Instagram, it has a strong chance at building enough of an ecosystem of users to have real staying power.
The social internet is in the midst of a massive upheaval right now, and no one really knows how it's going to impact our politics next year. Americans’ social media diets are becoming more distributed and less trackable, and some likeare questioning if social media’s impact on politics is waning altogether. I obviously think the internet will still have a major role to play next year, but predicting the future is harder than ever. On this front, I agree with what Anchor Change’s told me in May:
“I will bet you money that there is going to be a platform that is going to have an impact on the election that is not yet created or is still just being created in somebody’s garage right now.”
Meta’s re-entry into politics
If Threads indeed achieves staying power, it will present a ton of new opportunities and challenges for Meta. It is an intentional and unexpected re-entry for the company into the world of news and politics. Meta’s Facebook has been withdrawing its investments in news and politics over the past few years, which included killing its news partnerships division and intentionally deprioritizing political content in users’ Facebook feeds. If Meta is going to ensure that Threads is successful and achieves its goals, however, Threads will have to become the place for news consumption and political debate.
Answering Big Tech’s big questions
In order for Threads to fill that role, it will have to address the same big policy questions that Meta has grappled with for over a decade. How will the new platform handle content moderation and the spread of false or misleading content? How will fact-checking work on the platform? How much money is Mark Zuckerberg willing to spend on that kind of stuff, especially after cutting those same investments in policy and integrity at his other platforms? If they allow advertising on the new app by next year, will they allow political ads? Would those ads be archived in Meta’s ad library? Will researchers and journalists have API access or additional transparency tools? Will politicians be allowed to lie about the results of a free and fair election? How does this new platform impact Meta’s ongoing fights with publishers over news distribution and compensation?
Advocates concerned about those issues and others regarding data privacy seem skeptical of the Threads rollout. “People are right to be angry about Twitter’s disgusting and dangerous lurch to extreme right-wing ideology and its quickly disintegrating user experience, but putting faith in another Mark Zuckerberg-led social media platform is a recipe for disaster,” Kyle Morse, Deputy ED of Tech Oversight Project told Gizmodo on Thursday.
It seems like the company first wants everyone to join the platform, and they’ll figure out the answers to all of those tough regulation and moderation questions later. Besides, in the short term, they just have to do more in terms of content moderation than what Elon Musk’s Twitter is doing…which is not a lot.
A mass political migration
As of Thursday evening, hundreds (if not thousands) of prominent politicians and political groups have already started posting on Threads - which is far more than ever used a platform like Mastodon or Post or BlueSky. Andrew Solender at AXIOS reports that more than a quarter of members of Congress had joined the platform within 24 hours - which means a lot of digital staffers quickly got their bosses’ approvals to do so late on Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Every major political media brand - from the New York Times to FOX News - has a presence on the platform already.
This kind of mass adoption of any platform or software simply doesn't happen that frequently in politics - and is a good sign for Threads’ political utility.
For our part, we’ll be watching how (or if) the app grows and continuing to share our own data and analysis on Threads, Substack’s Notes, and even on Elon M*sk’s rapidly deteriorating platform. We’ll also make sure to pour one out this weekend for campaign digital staffers who just got one more thing to keep up with.
PS, if you’re on Threads, you should follow us @fwiwnews! Hit that big ol’ follow button below.
One more thing: Democrats’ new online supervillain just dropped
Most political digital fundraisers will tell you that effective online advertising campaigns often use a “bogeyman” (usually a political nemesis of some kind) to generate rage clicks or collect rapid-fire donations from their supporters. Republicans have long used images of Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Bernie Sanders in this way to drive online conversions from their grassroots supporters. For Democrats, Donald Trump has been a constant feature of these types of hurried fundraising ad campaigns and urgent email appeals.
While Trump remains enemy number one in most Democratic digital programs, a new bogeyman has emerged to spark fear and outrage among progressive audiences in recent months: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In 2023 alone, more than a dozen prominent progressive organizations or Democratic campaigns have used the Supreme Court Justice’s image for fundraising purposes. Among those doing so: MoveOn, Alliance for Justice, Stand Up America, UltraViolet, Indivisible, PCCC, Inequality Media, DCCC, DGA, DSCC, NARAL, Elizabeth Warren, and Chris Murphy
It’s not uncommon for SCOTUS nominees to pop up as temporary targets of partisan digital campaigns during their confirmation hearings, but with recent reports of blatant corruption happening alongside a major right-wing shift on the court, the political attacks on Thomas have reached new levels.
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