Facebook’s advertising machine is one of the most sophisticated in the world. It has turned the social network from a tiny website launched in a Harvard dorm room to a $520 billion company.
But it’s also landed Facebook in a world of scrutiny in the aftermath of last year’s US presidential election. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, will testify in congressional hearings as lawmakers delve into how Russian agents might have used their platforms to meddle in the election.
On Monday, BuzzFeed published a leaked Facebook pitch for marketers, breaking down its users into segments based on political leanings. “The result is a comprehensive picture of Facebook users against various political affiliations, representing who they are, how they live, what they like and more,” the pitch reads.
The pitch breaks some of Facebook’s users into five main categories: very liberal, liberal, moderate, conservative and very conservative. Within each of those main categories, there are several sub-categories. Those include “youthful urbanites,” under the “very liberal” segment. Their average age is 29 years old, and they like boxing and comedy TV. They support women’s issues and Barack Obama. Facebook said there’s 10.2 million of them on its network.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are “diverse parents,” under the “conservative” category. Their average age is 42 years old, they enjoy boating, and support libertarianism. On the very far right, there’s a category called “the great outdoors.” Under the politics section of the category, the terms listed are: “NRA,” “tea party,” and “stop Obamacare.”
The practice isn’t any different than how consultants usually divide up demographics, but the sales pitch — as well as the labels and affiliation information — provides an interesting window into how Facebook sees its users, especially in the vein of politics. Or at least used to see its users. A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed the pitch is not being used anymore, and “the segments are no longer available.”
Facebook didn’t respond to questions seeking more information about the pitch.
To be sure, this kind of targeted advertising is common. A pitch like this was written by an ad team for a specific kind of client, so it’s hard to glean any overall information about how Facebook sees its user base, said Jeff Jarvis, an author and media critic.
On the bottom of the slide, there’s a logo from the Facebook Creative Shop, which Facebook describes as a “team of brand marketers, creative directors and strategists who build ideas to help clients grow their business.”
Facebook has been in the hot seat over bad actors potentially abusing its ad platform. In September, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Russian-linked accounts bought $100,000 worth of ads meant to spread misinformation or cause discord around divisive issues. Russian-backed content was seen by 126 million Americans during the election, according to CBS News.
The Smartest Stuff: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.
Special Reports: CNET’s in-depth features in one place.