With a year to go before the US general election, Facebook is gearing up for campaign season. Today, the company announced a new ad product tailored specifically to political campaigns, allowing candidates to advertise specifically to the most politically active and influential Facebook users. Based partly on a patent granted to the company earlier this year, the system would allow campaigns to advertise webpages or news stories to the users most likely to pass them on, effectively using influential users to spread a given campaign's message. As a Facebook executive told Wired, "people are more likely to trust information that their friends share."
"People are more likely to trust information that their friends share."
It's far from the first political product offered by the company. Political campaigns have long relied on traditional Facebook advertising tools to build up a presence on the network, using tools like interest targeting to find Facebook users demographically likely to support a candidate. Since get-out-the-vote efforts traditionally rely on voter rolls, Facebook efforts have traditionally focused on rallying support for a given candidate or spreading a particular line of attack against an opponent, but they're still a central part of a modern campaign.
Still, the new product is likely to fuel long-standing concerns over Facebook's role in shaping sentiments and conversations around the upcoming election. Unlike heavily regulated television ads, Facebook campaigns are often difficult to trace back to a specific candidate, and the decentralized nature of the network makes it easy to promote facts and storylines that are completely invisible to the mainstream view of the election. In short, it's a remarkably different kind of media tool than political candidates have had access to in the past, and it's likely to have a major impact on the next year of campaigning.