With the coronavirus pandemic and the US Election, there is a lot to be stressed and concerned about. There is so much information and disinformation, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to make informed decisions. I don’t wish to add too much to the information overload, but there is an issue relating to the US election that I feel is vitally important for people to know about, and factor in with their decision making.
Facebook Political Microtargeting
There are over 190 million active US Facebook accounts. Both political parties and their supporter groups (and possibly hacking groups) pay millions of dollars to display political ads on Facebook. Many of these political Facebook ads are specifically targeted and tailored for you. This is known as microtargeting. The political ads you are seeing on Facebook are not the same, generic ads everyone is seeing, like on the TV, they are just for you.
You might be being specifically targeted due to your online history and Facebook data – the years of posts you have read/liked/shared/commented on, and the people and organisations you follow (or have unfollowed) on Facebook. You can read more on microtargeting here and more about social media use in politics here.
Now if you are a 100% diehard Republican or Democrat, you will likely see less targetted ads, as what’s the point, they already have your vote. The people targetted the most are those undecided, on-the-fence voters. If you are undecided, but your Facebook data suggested you can possibly be swayed one way or another, you will likely be targeted with some highly effective, highly biased advertising designed to sway you.
This Is A Problem…
I have two main issues with this Facebook microtargeting – firstly, most people are unaware that they are being lead-down-the-path via these individualised, highly biased advertising campaigns that are cleverly designed to sway them to vote one way or another. Secondly, these microtargeted ad campaigns don’t even have to be truthful or factual. They can, in effect be lies. You may be seeing ads which are highly biased stating outright lies, day after day… Facebook ads are not fact-checked by Facebook.
The bottom line is – don’t be swayed by the political Facebook ads you are seeing. They are not fact-checked. They are highly biased and cleverly designed to push you to vote one way or another. You are basically being cleverly deceived. Most people don’t know this.
If you are interested in seeing some of the different ads that are used to target people on Facebook, check out the ProPublica Facebook Political Ad Collector where they compile a user-submitted database of the political ads currently doing the rounds on Facebook. Seeing all the different ads that are being shown to different people is eye-opening, to say the least.
UPDATE – New Sources
Almost all news sources have some political bias. If you always read the same news websites or newspapers, it is easy to get caught up with their biased reporting and mistake their political opinion as fact. Even if you use a news aggregator such as Google News it can be biased even though it includes all news sources. Google News was recently found to slightly favour leftish news reporting.
There is a great website called allsides.com where they attempt to provide a balanced 360 view of the news by including news from left, center and right news sources. No matter whether you consider yourself left – center or right, it is great to be able to view the news issues from all angles. It is really interesting to see how different news sources report the same issues, but with different biases. Check out the allsides.com US Election portal here.
A final note for the 2020 US Election – however you do it, postal or in person, please be sure to vote!