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A brief history of time: Here’s what Florida candidates are doing on Facebook

Social media giant Facebook recently unveiled its database of candidate and issue spending. It archives all political ads dating back to May 7.

The information provides insights to what extent candidates are prioritizing digital spending on Facebook along with its subsidiary Instagram.

The changes are a direct result of Facebook coming under scrutiny for giving way to Russian trolls during the 2016 election and enabling some to disperse messages of hate. The changes bring with them more intense verification and thorough disclosure processes. The most noticeable change to the average user is likely the “paid for by …” descriptor now attached to candidate- or issue-related ads.

In announcing the changes Thursday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “One of my top priorities for 2018 is making sure we help prevent interference and misinformation in elections. These changes won’t fix everything, but they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads.”

Zuckerberg also suggested the changes would result in more careful and message-conscious approaches, as each ad would now be easily traced back to who purchased it.

“I hope they’ll also raise the bar for all political advertising online,” wrote Zuckerberg.

The search option for the database is simple; typing in a candidate’s name or a political organization’s title will yield ads related to the search term, including who’s paid for them. Also provided: an estimated amount it took to advertise the ad, its status currently (active or not) and the number of impressions it has garnered.

Florida Politics has queried some terms related to 2018 races. It’s early yet, and results vary by candidate and group, but there already are some takeaways. For example, the Florida Democratic Party is inundating Facebook with anti-Rick Scott ads, meanwhile, U.S. Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who’s running for Governor, can’t quite seem to figure out the new rules.

Here’s a brief breakdown, as of Friday:

U.S. Senate

Republican Gov. Scott has run 30 ads since May 7, each one with less than $1,000 behind it. Eleven of the ads are either in Spanish or prefaced with Spanish and interpreted in English below.

Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in the same time has launched 53 ads, a majority of which were solicitations for campaign donations.

Governor’s race

In the Republican primary race for Governor, Adam Putnam‘s Florida Grown committee has run 12 separate digital ads touting the Agriculture Commissioner’s vocational-technical program announced last week. Most of those were backed with buys ranging between $100 to $499, though one sits below $100, two are within the $1,000 to $5,000 range, and one has crossed into the $5,000 – $10,000 range.

Florida Grown also backed three ads with pro-life abortion messages, one fell in the $100 to $499 range, the other two were fueled by $500 – $999 buys.

Putnam’s spending on Facebook draws a stark contrast with DeSantis, who attempted to run one ad in May — only to see it taken down “because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies,” reads the archive.

On the Democratic side, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has run 35 ads on Facebook since May 7. Most of the ads fall within the less than $100 or $100 to $499 range, but two have crossed the $1,000 mark: a video touting his progressive record as mayor and another expressing his support for teachers.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, in contrast, doesn’t seem to be focusing as much on digital spending — on Facebook, at least. A search of her name reveals that she’s only had two ads, both spanning a day, since May 7. Both were backed with less than $100.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has run 37 ads on Zuckerberg’s platforms. And at first glance it appears Gillum is getting the most bang for his buck — good news for a campaign behind in the money chase. The Gillum camp dished out between $100 – $499 to push out an Orlando Sentinel editorial on Florida’s record on health care. Over the article, Gillum wrote, “Our state ranks at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to access to affordable healthcare — we have a health care crisis. As Governor, I’ll fight for ‘Medicare for All’, an expansion of Medicaid, and protections for women’s health care and pre-existing conditions.”

It grabbed the mayor anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 impressions, or the number of instances an ad is on-screen for the first time for a user. To reach the same amount of screens, Levine spent in the $1,000 to $5,000 range, though that amount of spending also netted the Miami Beach Mayor impressions exceeding 200,000 in one instance.

Orlando businessman Chris King, who’s consistently in third or fourth in the polls, has launched 33 ads since May 7, all but one of which was accompanied with $100 or less. He is, however, the second Democrat, following Levine, to finance a TV spend.

Cabinet races

In the recorded period, the candidates for Cabinet seats who’ve advertised on Facebook are as follows: Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who’s running for reelection, Agriculture Commissioner candidates state Senator Denise Grimsley and Baxter Troutman, and state Rep. Jay Fant, who’s running for Attorney General.

U.S. Representatives

Two of the most vulnerable Florida Republicans, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both are active on Facebook. Mast has run 19 ads on his own accord since Facebook began archiving posts. Curbelo has just one, but has been supported with two others from a climate change-focused group. The Congressional Leadership Fund has dedicated a decent amount of digital spending for both candidates, though as of now it has yet to show up.

Former congressman Alan Grayson and incumbent Darren Soto, who will duke it out in the Aug. 28 primary, both were not active during the recorded period.

In the closely watched Democratic primary for CD 27, Donna Shalala has spent between $100 and $499 on five ads, while state Rep. David Richardson has spent similar amounts on five ads as well. The three other candidates did not spend anything.

Dems and Republicans

The Florida Democratic Party has hit Facebook consistently during May, sharing just two messages: defeat Scott and reform gun laws. Of the 133 ads by Dems in the recorded period, 55 targeted Scott while also solicitng donations. Only one Scott-focused buy exceeded $100.

Interestingly, a search for “Republican Party of Florida” yields a goose egg.

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at

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