Digital ad wars focus on hot-button issues in 2020 election

/ CBS News

Digital ad spending focuses on 2020 issues

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, candidates and their supporters are turning to digital advertisers to reach their key audiences. According to a recent report by Axios, the biggest spenders so far are President Trump's campaign and billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer.

But what you see on platforms like Facebook will likely differ from the topics covered in town halls and debates. Axios reporter Sara Fischer told CBSN the biggest issues are ones that are "emotionally driven," like gun control and abortion, which are more likely to resonate on social media.

For example, on the Republican side, Axios found 44 percent of Mr. Trump's Facebook ad budget is being used to target users over 65, which aligns with his key demographic of supporters. His campaign is also likely to focus on immigration. Democrats, on the other hand, are only spending 27 percent of their budget to reach seniors.

As the Democratic field gets more crowded, digital ad spending will be key to soliciting donations. Under rules established by the Democratic National Committee, candidates wishing to participate in the initial primary debates must have donations from at least 65,000 people and 200 unique donors from at least 20 states.

"When you're clicking around on your phone or online, it's really easy to just go into a portal where you can send a donation," Fisher said. "That's why you see all these candidates on the Democratic side rushing to spend money online."

As the primaries get closer, Fisher said candidates will take out "homepage takeovers" in which they buy out the homepages of big news sites like The New York Times or The Washington Post. But she warns some of the biggest platforms, like Google and Facebook, don't have vigorous fact checking procedures for evaluating the political ads you see.

"Bad actors, people trying to manipulate the system, they know how the algorithms work," she said. "So what they'll do is they'll put up something that's inaccurate, or misinformation that's just bad enough, but good enough so that the algorithm won't boot it off the platform."

The same emotion that helps candidates connect with voters is what Russia relied on during the 2016 election, when Russian intelligence operatives posed as Americans to establish social media personas and pages and used specific language designed to deepen divisions.

First published on April 23, 2019 / 5:16 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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