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The EU began its war on disinformation and convinced leading internet platforms, including Facebook, to self-regulate. As a result, internet users were offered new tools and disclaimers see: Facebook moves towards transparency meant to increase the transparency of targeted political. These questions included: Is it possible to target people based on their psychometric profile, using only Facebook data?
Under what circumstances does PMT have a ificant impact on voters? How does PMT differ between the U. Does the use of PMT call for new legal rules? Are we ready to name concrete problems, and identify which of them can be solved by regulators? And last but not least: Who should be the target of such regulation? Political parties and their spin doctors, because they commission targeted ? The project started in spring and was funded by the Network of European Foundations as part of the Civitates programme.
The timing seemed ideal: Poland was in the middle of its electoral triathlon, which began with local electionscontinued through EU and domestic parliamentary electionsand concluded with presidential elections We also cooperated with Who Targets Me to leverage their crowdsourced database of political advertisements from Facebook.
Our research was based on two streams of data: data voluntarily shared with us by Polish Facebook users via Who Targets Me pluginand data obtained by us directly from Facebook via their official ad library and API which was made available to researchers. We believe European policy debates would benefit from more evidence on the use of PMT, especially in the light of upcoming regulation on internet platforms the so-called Digital Services Actto be proposed by the European Commission by the end of In the course of this research, we found the missing answers e. We have also discovered that country-specific regulations are not prepared for securing transparency of the election campaign.
We hope that this work — in particular our recommendations — will be a meaningful contribution to the pool of research on the impact of PMT and the growing role of internet platforms in the game of political influence.
We drafted this report thinking about policymakers and experts interested in regulating PMT and transparency of election campaigns in social media, as well as fellow researchers and activists who struggle with our same questions. We are aware that this audience does not need an overview of existing literature on this topic.
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In the interest of producing a useful and concise report, we essentially limited its scope to the presentation of new evidence i. Definitions, context, and explanation of the ad targeting process Part 1 of the report has been limited to the minimum. For those who are interested in a broader picture going beyond the use of PMT on Facebook or need more information about the targeting process, we have a reading list at the end of the report. Download the executive summary.
Zuiderveen Borgesiusthe distinguishing feature of microtargeting is turning one heterogeneous group e.
In the words of the researchers:. Micro-targeting differs from regular targeting not necessarily in the size of the target audience, but rather in the level of homogeneity, perceived by the political advertiser.
Part i. microtargeting, politics, and platforms
Simply put, a micro-targeted audience receives a message tailored to one or several specific characteristic s. This characteristic is perceived by the political advertiser as instrumental in making the audience member susceptible to that tailored message. A regular targeted message does not consider matters of audience heterogeneity.
Colin Bennett and Smith Oduro-Marfo observe that microtargeting can be conducted across a of different variables : Not only the demographic characteristics of the audience, but also a clear geographic location, policy message, and means of communication:. Thus, micro-targeted messages might be directed towards a precise demographic in many constituencies. But they may equally be directed towards a broader demographic within a more precise location.
A precise and localised policy promise, for instance, might appeal to a very broad population within a specific region.
Existing research shows that political microtargeting or PMT in this report carries several risks related to its inherent lack of transparency. It may:. We acknowledge that political parties have many other tools at their disposal for influencing potential voters see: Political parties as clients: hiding in the shadows. In this context, it is important to view PMT as one part of a much bigger picture. Nevertheless, in this report we will not look at the whole picture, but exclusively at the use of PMT.
We chose this focus for the following reasons:. Current regulations written for traditional political campaigning do not for problems generated by online platforms and data brokers, who are now key players in this game. In the Polish context, there is little we can do to uncover this kind of shadowy political influence, apart from looking at its online traces.
Political microtargeting is one such trace. And Facebook is, at this point, the most open platform for documenting it. This realisation was one of the premises behind our research. There is, however, a second critical premise: Online platforms have their own tools of power and influence that matter in the context of political elections, and therefore should be subject to public scrutiny. When we chose to focus on the use of PMT, it quickly became clear that we would also need to focus on Facebook.
In recent years, Facebook has established itself as a leader in the political advertising market. In the EU, its political advertising revenue dwarfs that of Google. While other platforms also allow for targeting users based on their behavioural data e. It has also boasted about its ability to match and users based on hidden and sometimes vulnerable characteristics. InFacebook introduced the concept of custom audiences see: Custom audienceallowing advertisers to create their own specific customer segments directly within their Facebook Manager, without the need to extract the data and analyze it externally.
Since then, Facebook has been improving its matching algorithm. In this context, it is hardly surprising that Facebook became the target of investigations after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In the U. This narrow focus of public investigations shows the challenge we face, as a society, in understanding and exposing the true role that online platforms play in political influence. We believe it deserves at least the same attention and scrutiny as the role of so-called malicious third parties, be they data brokers like the infamous Cambridge Analytica or the proverbial Russian spin doctors.
Coupled with algorithmic processing and big data analysis, Facebook is then capable of inferring political opinions, personality traits, and other characteristics, which can be used for political persuasion. As a result, Facebook knows more about citizens than political parties do. Facebook is not merely a passive intermediary between advertisers and users.
In such cases, Facebook and other online platforms offer political parties the means to reach specific groups without having to collect data. In this section, we explain key decisions made in the targeting process.
Even though this process is initiated by the advertisers who create ad campaigns and choose the profile of their target audience, the key role still belongs to Facebook. While political advertisers who use Facebook do make their own choices, their choices have been shepherded by Facebook and increasingly rely on data that was collected or inferred by Facebook. After making this selection, advertisers can as their own names to the targeted audience and save for further use.
When it comes to defining targeting criteria and campaign strategies, advertisers have the following criteria at their disposal:. For each broad objective, advertisers are then provided with an exhaustive list of detailed effects to choose from. Advertisers may also define the timeframe for running the ad, the placement of the ad e.
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Advertisers can also set limits on their budget e. Although political parties play an active role in defining their preferred audience, ultimately it is not up to them to decide which users fall into targeted groups. At this stage, key decisions are made by Facebook and are informed by everything Facebook knows about its users including off-Facebook activity and data inferred by its algorithms.
Please note that we do not have the full picture of that process, because it remains opaque. The understanding that we present below has been based on fragmented information revealed by Facebook e. Targeting starts with data collection, which provides a foundation for obtaining statistical knowledge about humans and predicting their behaviour. For the purposes of this report, we will only cover the most common sources of data that are relevant to political targeting:.
All of this data is analysed by algorithms and compared with data from other users, in the search for meaningful statistical correlations. But thanks to big data analysis, Facebook is also able to infer hidden characteristics that users themselves are not likely to reveal: their real purchasing power, psychometric profiles, IQ, family situation, addictions, illnesses, obsessions, and commitments.
A larger goal behind this ongoing algorithmic analysis is to build a detailed and comprehensive profile of every single user; to understand what that person does, what she will do in the near future, and what motivates her. Depending on how the advertiser selected their target audience, Facebook will have slightly different tasks:. In order to select the targeted audience, Facebook take the following factors into consideration:.
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Facebook offers advertisers a of features to automate ad creation and targeting, including its Automated service. The idea behind Automated service is simple but powerful: Advertisers can rely on Facebook to prepare an entire advertising campaign, almost from start to finish.
These features show that Facebook can play an even more active role in determining which users will be reached with specific. The platform can also facilitate microtargeting by creating versions of an ad that will most likely appeal to a particular person.
In the near future, the platform might take over the entire advertising process, from deing the ad creative to determining ad budgets and appropriate groups to target. This shift is far from comprehensive, and it likely would not have happened without pressure from European regulators. But it is important to acknowledge. In Septemberthe European Commission launched the Code of practice against disinformationa self-regulatory instrument which encourages its atories to commit to a variety of actions to tackle online disinformation.
In terms of advertising, atories committed to providing transparency into political and issue-based advertising, and to helping consumers understand why they are seeing particular. The code has been ed by the leading online platforms including Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
As a atory, Facebook has committed to offer users the possibility to view more information about Facebook s and their active ; to introduce mandatory policies and processes for advertisers who run political and issue ; and to give users controls over what they see, in addition to explanations of why they are seeing a given ad.
In MarchFacebook introduced a public repository of in the European Union dubbed the Ad Library ly functioning in the U. Simultaneously, Facebook expanded access to the Ad Library application programming interface APIwhich allows researchers to perform customised searches and analyse stored in the Ad Library. Facebook Ad Library encompasses all advertisements, and additional insights are available for related to social issues, elections, or politics. These insights include the range of paid views that the ad received; the range of amount spent on an ad; and the distribution of age, gender, and location limited to regions of people who saw the ad.
Political and issue and insights related to them are archived and remain in the Ad Library for seven years, while other are available only during the time they are active.