Facebook announces big changes the “Big Data” game, and couldn’t come at a worse time for Republicans

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In case you haven’t noticed, some of your favorite Facebook pages aren’t appearing in your “News Feed” as frequently as they used to. This is because the most widely used social media platform sought to increase its revenues by getting page owners to invest in “sponsored” posts to boost reach.

Prior to the big change, which took place late last year, page owners could invest in their brands by increasing the number of “likes.” It was essentially an addiction. They’d see their traffic soar and ad revenues rise. When Facebook changes its algorithm, page owners had to adjust, which is why users are seeing more reliance on graphics these days.

But the Facebook gods weren’t done there.

At the end of July, Facebook announced that it was implementing another round of changes, one that has implications for grassroots campaigns and organizations. Basically, according to a recent piece at Campaigns and Electionsapplications no longer have access to users’ friends list, something that had been a boon to political operations (emphasis added):

Facebook has allowed companies to develop apps that access the friend lists of users. For political targeters, this feature has been a handy way to connect Facebook to a voter file and automate the process of peer-to-peer voter contact.

Friend-access has been built into tools from NGP VAN and other vendors, and it worked like this: If a candidate’s supporters clicked a button to allow it, the technology would compare their lists of friends to the campaign’s priority list of outreach contacts—often voters who were hard to reach in other ways.

If the software detected a match, it would ask the supporter to confirm that they were indeed friends with the person in question (false positives were inevitable, making verification vital). The supporter would then be asked to contact the targeted voter on behalf of the campaign, often with a message designed to match the recipient’s demographic profile.

In 2012, the Obama campaign developed its own version of the tool, and staff I’ve spoken with have described it as particularly useful in reaching younger voters. Since many people in their 20s move frequently and rarely have land lines, social connections were one of the only ways to track this elusive quarry.

But no more: Facebook’s API change blocks new apps from accessing friend lists, and existing ones are grandfathered in for just a year. After the 2014 election cycle, vendors will have to find new ways to mine the social web for voter contacts. Smart ones will have already done so.

So, now, campaigns and grassroots organizations have to get a little more creative in their outreach efforts. Memes and infographics may help boost interactions and get a certain message out, but that’s probably not enough.

The timing is curious, to say the least. While no conspiracy is being suggested, it does seem a little peculiar that Facebook is changing the game as Republicans appear to be likely to takeover the Senate.

Republicans aren’t the troglodytes they once were. Sure, they still trail Democrats in the data game, but they have made some strides since 2012. But Facebook, once a boon to President Obama’s reelection campaign, is however, throwing a big wrench in those plans by taking away yet another valuable tool.


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