Leak: Trump Campaign Used Facebook to Suppress Millions of Black Votes in 2016

By Shani Saxon Sep 29, 2020

In a report published on Monday (September 28), British news outlet Channel 4 uncovered data showing the 2016 Trump presidential campaign used Facebook in an attempt to suppress 3.5 million Black votes. The leak revealed that campaign officials gathered information on nearly 200 million voters and divided them up into eight categories. One category, referred to as "Deterrence," included the names of Black voters the campaign hoped "don’t show up to vote" on Election Day. 

The suppression campaign disproportionally targeted Black voters in an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton’s support at the polls. Reports Channel 4:

In Georgia, despite Black people constituting 32% of the population, they made up 61% of the ‘Deterrence’ category. In North Carolina, Black people are 22% of the population but were 46% of ‘Deterrence.’ In Wisconsin, Black people constitute just 5.4% of the population but made up 17% of ‘Deterrence.’

The disproportionate [categorizing] of Black Americans for ‘Deterrence’ is seen across the U.S. Overall, people of [color labeled] as Black, Hispanic, Asian and ‘Other’ groups made up 54% of the ‘Deterrence’ category. In contrast, other categories of voters the campaign wished to attract were overwhelmingly white.

The 2016 campaign preceded the first fall in Black turnout in 20 years and allowed Donald Trump to take shock victories in key states like Wisconsin and Michigan by wafer-thin margins, reaching the White House despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

Channel 4 reports the Trump campaign worked with highly controversial British data firm Cambridge Analytica, which is no longer in business, to build the database used to target voters with discouraging ads.

The Washington Post says Trump’s re-election campaign denies the Channel 4 report, calling it “fake news.” The news is still “likely to intensify concerns about voter suppression and the opportunities afforded by Facebook to narrowly segment and target portions of the electorate,” according to The Post. Channel 4 does not indicate how they obtained the database. 

Reports The Post:

The material revives debates over the extent to which the voter profiles touted by Cambridge Analytica were actually used to sway the vote in 2016. The firm was founded in part by the Trump campaign’s onetime chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, and collapsed in 2018 after news reports detailed its improper use of Facebook data in analyzing voters and other allegations of impropriety.

Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor (D) spoke to The Post about the Channel 4 report, calling the news “shocking.” 

“It just makes me feel disgusted what the president of the United States did to disenfranchise the citizens of our most important thing, which is our democracy,” Taylor said. 

In a statement to The Post, Facebook, which was criticized by Channel 4 for its part in delivering ads meant to discourage voting in 2016, said this type of targeting isn’t taking place today. 

“Since 2016, elections have changed and so has Facebook—what happened with Cambridge Analytica couldn’t happen today,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told The Post. “We have 35,000 people working to ensure the integrity of our platform, created a political ads library to make political advertising more transparent than anywhere else, and have protected more than 200 elections worldwide. We also have rules prohibiting voter suppression and are running the largest voting information campaign in American history.”