(BLOOMBERG) In the days after the White House released a readout of Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine, setting off the impeachment saga, Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee made a major financial move designed to shape public opinion. Operating jointly, they dumped millions of dollars into Facebook and Google ads to send a counter-narrative coursing through the internet. In this alternate reality Trump was the victim, not the perpetrator, of an effort to enlist foreign interference in a U.S. election. He was fighting, not encouraging, Ukrainian corruption. And Democrats were the bad guys. (“When President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption,” went one ad, “the Democrats want to IMPEACH him—and their media lapdogs fall in line!”)
Almost instantly, conservative websites and Facebook pages with millions of followers lit up with Trump’s exculpatory storyline, creating a kind of a parallel universe in which a reader seeking to understand the day’s headlines would come away learning roughly the opposite of what the facts of the Ukraine scandal appear to show.
A Democratic strategist named Tara McGowan watched all this unfold with particular alarm. McGowan, 33, is the founder of Acronym, a nonprofit digital strategy group that organizes progressives online to vote and volunteer. Lately she’s gained notoriety for her outspoken criticism of her party’s inability to challenge, or even clearly comprehend, Trump’s dominance of the digital landscape—and the threat it poses to Democrats’ chances in 2020. Facebook’s decision to allow political ads with false information has only intensified her worry.
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