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Politics

Republicans are flooding the Georgia runoffs with millions of dollars in digital dark ads

Facebook and Google's political ad ban has pushed all digital spending for the Georgia runoffs onto platforms that offer no transparency at all.

Republicans are flooding the Georgia runoffs with millions of dollars in digital dark ads

Facebook and Google's political ad bans are pushing millions of dollars in advertising to platforms with no transparency.

Photo: Rev. Raphael Warnock/Flickr

Facebook and Google are still banning political ads on their platforms, but that hasn't stopped Republican super PACs from spending millions of dollars on other platforms, including Hulu, to reelect Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The only difference: On those platforms, there's no way of knowing what the ads say.

After the 2016 election, Facebook and Google created imperfect but extensive databases of every political ad that runs on their sites, complete with information on who's running them and how much they're spending. But these measures are entirely self-imposed and haven't been adopted by the majority of companies, including large streaming platforms. When Facebook and Google decided to prohibit all political ads after the U.S. election — and then decided to extend that ban, likely through the end of the year — they more or less pushed all digital ad spending for the Georgia runoffs onto platforms that offer no transparency at all.

"We're not going to know what the content of these ads are," said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center. "It'll be much harder in the Georgia senate race to identify what digital messages these super PACs are disseminating to voters and make it harder to correct the record if misinformation is distributed."

The Campaign Legal Center reviewed Federal Election Commission filings for digital ads targeting the Georgia runoffs and found that as of Tuesday, the vast majority of the spending is coming from Republican super PACs. Americans for Prosperity Action, the Koch brothers-funded group, has reported $1 million in spending this month on digital ad expenses in support of Perdue and in opposition to his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff. Another group, the National Victory Action Fund, reported $2.75 million in online advertising, email communication and SMS messages to support Loeffler and Perdue, though it's not clear what percentage of that went into ads.

The groups aren't required to say where their ads are running, but one group, FreedomWorks for America, reported spending about $346,000 in pro-Loeffler and Perdue ads directly on Hulu.

All in, the Campaign Legal Center found Republican super PACs have spent over $5 million on digital ads and outreach in the Georgia runoff, compared to under $700,000 in digital ads from Democrats. None of those ads are visible to anyone who wasn't targeted by them.

"Many of the ads are pretty ugly," Fischer said of the Georgia attack ads running on television. "We're seeing some of those kinds of inflammatory messages being disseminated in public. You could only imagine what kind of messages would be communicated in secret with targeted ads that are not otherwise publicly available."

This is not the first time the Campaign Legal Center has found millions of dollars in advertising flowing to platforms that don't disclose political ads. But Facebook and Google's ongoing ad ban essentially ensures that those platforms with no accountability are the only place digital political ads can go.

To Fischer, this is yet another data point to illustrate why Facebook and Google's self-imposed transparency initiatives are insufficient and why the country needs laws that make digital platforms subject to the same record-keeping and disclosure requirements that television and radio broadcasters are held to. New York state passed a law imposing disclosure requirements on digital political ads targeting the state, but federal efforts to pass such reforms through a bill called the Honest Ads Act have stalled out in Congress.

Democrats have vehemently opposed Facebook and Google's ongoing ad ban, arguing it gives Republican incumbents, both of whom are independently wealthy and may be able to afford bigger budget TV ads, a leg up. "Facebook and Google are putting their fingers on the scale for millionaire Republican candidates while ignoring the rampant disinformation on their platforms and engaging in their own version of voter suppression," Ossoff communications director Miryam Lipper recently told Protocol in a statement. "Facebook and Google should exempt Georgia Senate candidates from the ban."
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
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Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Protocol | Fintech

Beyond Robinhood: Stock exchange rebates are under scrutiny too

Some critics have compared the way exchanges attract orders from customers to the payment for order flow system that has enriched retail brokers.

The New York Stock Exchange is now owned by the Intercontinental Exchange.

Photo: Aditya Vyas/Unsplash

As questions pile up about how powerful and little-known Wall Street entities rake in profits from stock trading, the exchanges that handle vast portions of everyday trading are being scrutinized for how they make money, too.

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Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
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