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When Facebook wants to clear things up, it turns to ... Twitter

This time, Facebook execs want to talk about the Trump campaign’s 2016 ad spend. Confused? We explain.

Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director
Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director
Drew Angerer / Getty
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Facebook generated more than $40 billion in revenue last year. Twitter did $2.4 billion. Investors think Facebook is worth $527 billion. They value Twitter at $23 billion.

Facebook used to care about competing with Twitter. It stopped worrying about that a long time ago.

But Facebook can’t ignore what happens on Twitter.

Which is why there’s an email in my inbox from Facebook’s PR firm, telling me that a Facebook executive has sent out a series of tweets in response to a tweet from one of Donald Trump’s campaign officials, which had been retweeted by Hillary Clinton, and which was originally made in response to a tweet from a journalist.

Got it? Didn’t think so.

Here we go:

  • If you don’t follow digital advertising, that tweet may not seem like a big deal, but here’s why it was provocative: Parscale was suggesting that the Trump campaign was able to reach Facebook audiences at a much, much cheaper rate — expressed as a “CPM,” which means the cost to generate a thousand impressions — than the Clinton campaign did.
  • That tweet sat around until Sunday, when it was amplified by TechCrunch columnist Kim-Mai Cutler, who picked up Parscale’s comments and interpreted them to read that “Facebook may have systematically charged the Clinton campaign an order of magnitude or two more than it was charging Trump to reach American voters.”
  • Then Clinton herself retweeted Cutler last evening:
  • A few hours later, Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth, who used to be a VP in Facebook’s ads group and has become one of the company’s most outspoken executives on Twitter, responded with his own tweets, arguing that Facebook doesn’t set the prices for its ads — Facebook’s auction software sets the prices for its own ads:
  • Which brings us to the bulk email I got today from a Facebook rep telling me about another set of tweets from Bosworth. The crucial one is this chart, which shows that, throughout the campaign, the Trump and Clinton campaign paid roughly similar ad rates, and that the “Trump campaign paid slightly higher CPM prices on most days rather than lower as has been reported.”

Whew! We will leave it there for now, although Facebook certainly isn’t done defending itself. And as weird as this may have seemed a few years ago, I doubt that it is done using Twitter to defend itself in debates that start on Twitter.

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