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to a tweet from one of Donald Trump’s campaign officials, which had been retweeted by Hillary Clinton, and which was originally made in response to a tweet from a journalist.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:
- Four days ago, Antonio García Martínez, a former ad manager at Facebook, wrote a piece for Wired explaining how Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns — and Trump’s campaign in particular — bought Facebook ads in 2016. Headline: “How Trump conquered Facebook - without Russian ads.”
- That same day, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital boss (and as of today, the campaign manager for Trump’s 2020 campaign), endorsed the story on Twitter: “Finally. @WIRED gets it right. Here is an insider at @facebook that built the system and saw behind the curtain.”
- A day later that led to a retweet from Wired editor in chief Nicholas Thompson wondering how the ad rates that Clinton’s campaign paid for Facebook ads compared to the ones that Trump paid, which generated this response from Parscale:
I bet we were 100x to 200x her. We had CPMs that were pennies in some cases. This is why @realDonaldTrump was a perfect candidate for FaceBook.— Brad Parscale (@parscale) February 24, 2018
- 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:
We should all care about how social media platforms play a part in our democratic process. Because unless it’s addressed it will happen again. The midterms are in 8 months. We owe it to our democracy to get this right, and fast. https://t.co/aM3pRrZW4J— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 27, 2018
- 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:
Lots of confusion about ads pricing today. Remember, price for any given impression is determined by an auction so by definition this pricing cannot be discriminatory. 1/4— Boz (@boztank) February 27, 2018
- 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.”
After some discussion we've decided to share the CPM comparison on Trump campaign ads vs. Clinton campaign ads. This chart shows that during general election period, Trump campaign paid slightly higher CPM prices on most days rather than lower as has been reported. pic.twitter.com/u0qgUQ02qM— Boz (@boztank) February 27, 2018
- You think we’re done? We’re still not done. Bosworth’s tweet has spawned a new round of articles (as Facebook’s PR team presumably wanted) and criticism (as they probably expected). Headlines: “Facebook says Trump paid more than Clinton for digital advertising.” Criticism: “Hey, that data doesn’t really tell the full story.”
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.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.