On Saturday, Deepa Seetharaman of the Wall Street Journal profiled James Barnes, a former Facebook employee who was credited by the Trump campaign as their inside man and "MVP" at the social network — and who is now fighting to defeat the president in 2020.
"James Barnes left Facebook this spring, and said he is now dedicated to using the digital-ad strategies he employed on behalf of the Trump campaign to get President Trump out of office in 2020," wrote Seetharaman. "Mr. Barnes, who had been a lifelong Republican, has registered as a Democrat and recently started working with a progressive nonprofit called Acronym, where former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is on the board."
"In a series of interviews over the past three weeks, Mr. Barnes discussed how he helped the Trump campaign leverage some of Facebook’s powerful tools and products to extend its reach," wrote Seetharaman. "He talked about the pressure he felt behind the scenes, both from the Trump campaign and some colleagues at Facebook. His account sheds new light on Facebook’s role in the Trump campaign and what Democrats are trying to learn from it going into the next presidential election."
Barnes, who joined Facebook's ad team in 2013, was assigned to the group that allocated ad sales for Republican campaigns (there was a separate team that allocated ads for Democrats). In April 2016, he met with Trump's digital director Brad Parscale, and they discussed how to maximize Trump's exposure on the platform. Barnes advised him to use "engagement custom audiences," a product he had personally coded that allowed the campaign to target users who liked or commented on Trump's posts. This feature proved immensely powerful, netting them $2 to $3 dollars in fundraising for every dollar they spent on ads.
Barnes also played around with which demographics responded to which kinds of ads, testing everything from the dimensions of the ads to the colors to whether they said "Give" or "Donate." And he also became the point man for the Trump campaign, with Parscale telling him Trump would complain about Facebook on national TV unless he solved various technical problems the campaign was having.
This was in stark contrast to Democratic campaigns, which in theory had similar access to these tools from the other political ad team, but did not take full advantage of them.
Ultimately, Barnes voted for Hillary Clinton, despite everything he had done to assist the Trump campaign. He has said his role in Trump's rise haunts him, and after a stint trying to work on non-political advertising platforms, he has now signed on with Acronym to beat Trump at his own game.