Meta is finally peeling back the curtain on how political and election ads are targeted on Facebook. The company is making information about how ads targeting political and “social issues” are being made available to researchers and the public, Meta said in an update.
Researchers who are part of the company’s Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) program get access to the most detailed information. “This data is provided for each individual ad and includes information such as the interest categories chosen by advertisers,” Facebook writes.
The company had already experimented with making some targeting data available to researchers through FORT last year, but the information wasn’t available for political advertising until three months before the 2020 election. Now researchers will also have access to “all social issues, electoral and political ads running globally since August 2020.”
Meta also makes a more limited amount of political ad targeting data available to the public through its ad library. With that update, expected in July, everyone will be able to see more general information about how specific Facebook Pages are targeting their ads. “This update includes data on the total number of social, election, and political ads a page ran with each type of targeting (such as location, demographics, and interests) and the percentage of social, election, and political ad spend that was used. to target. those options,” the company wrote. “For example, the Ads Library could show that a page has shown 2,000 ads in the past 30 days about social issues, elections, or politics, and that 40% of their spend on those ads was directed at ‘people living in Pennsylvania’ or ‘people living in Pennsylvania’. be interested in politics.’”
Questions about how political ads are targeted on Facebook were a hot topic for the company. Researchers have long argued that understanding how election and political ads are targeted is just as important as having an overview of the people and organizations behind each ad. But Meta has resisted making detailed targeting data available, citing privacy concerns.
But that doesn’t stop groups from studying the problem for themselves. A team at New York University created a browser extension to help them understand how political ads are targeted on Facebook. Using the data, they discovered multiple errors in Facebook’s ad library. Meta accused the team of scraping and disabling their accounts, which also cut off their ability to use the company’s CrowdTangle tool to study misinformation.
Making more granular targeting information available through FORT may still not go as far as some researchers would like – researchers have yet to be vetted and approved by Facebook to access FORT – but it does at least offer one opportunity where the data is available. to be. And with the 2022 midterms taking place later this year, there will likely be a lot of interest in learning more about how political ads are spreading through Facebook.
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