Politicians who turned up the heat on Mark Zuckerberg over privacy and leaked-user information seem to have no problem spending their campaign budgets on Facebook in a bid to win over voters, according to news reports.

The Wall Street Journal found that of the 55 US representatives who quizzed Zuckerberg during the Washington hearing back in April, some two-thirds have since spent money advertising on Facebook.

And while it observed that advertising on the social media platform – including Instagram – cut across party lines, it added that Democrats had outspent their Republican rivals three to one, up to October 31.

The rise in digital political advertising is nothing less than spectacular. According to data from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, digital ads represented just 1% of all political ad expenditure in 2014. That percentage has now climbed to 22%, equivalent to around $1.9 billion.

Facebook says politicians have spent $300 million on ads on its platforms since May alone.

Such is Facebook’s dominance, the Journal said, that few politicians can avoid using the social media giant, despite concerns about it driving increased political division, and suggestions it has been used by Russia and now Iran to influence voting.

During campaigning for the last midterms, online ads targeting voters were generally limited only to national campaigns, Chris Massicotte, chief operating officer DSPolitical, an ad-targeting firm, told the Journal. But, as more ad-targeting firms have sprung up, and the cost of ads has fallen, sophisticated online ads are now being used far more widely.

“Most of our clients are state legislative campaigns and city council races,” Massicotte said.

The appeal of Facebook isn’t only because of the data it collects. Campaign staff and consultants gather people’s information from various sources – data brokers, donor and mailing lists, voter registrations and other publicly available information, as well as paid-for.

“If I want Democrats who voted in the last two out of four general elections who are over the age of 55 and are women, that’s something readily available in voter files,” said Massicotte.

Facebook is also an effective way of testing political messaging, he added. Campaigns can test a message on Instagram and receive more or less instant feedback.

Meanwhile, Ad Age reported that almost $1 billion has been spent on TV and radio campaigns targeting ten of the most highly contested gubernatorial and senate races for the midterms. According to the latest data from Kantar Media/CMAG, $967.5 million was spent from January last year to November 6, 2018. This figure includes advance bookings.

Sourced from Wall Street Journal, Ad Age; additional content by WARC staff