I built a unique crowdsourced collection of microtargeted political Facebook ads. This reporting project gave us a unique eye into how campaigns spread their message during the 2016 election – and it was only possible with the union of my reporting and technology skills.
Political ads on Facebook aren’t like ads on TV – it’s remarkably difficult to understand what your friend or neighbor is seeing. Candidates have reportedly run fine-grained ads to pick up supporters who care about esoteric issues. This project aimed to crowdsource a corpus of political Facebook ads and their targeting data; we invited our readers to install a web browser extension I wrote that let them send us the ads they were shown, simply by pressing a button. The project collected more than 17,000 ads and attracted significant interest from political scientists.
The project was unique for its view of microtargeted political ads, but it has since attracted imitators, including WhoTargetsMe, during the UK election in summer 2017. I was interviewed by UK media about my project.
Here’s one story I wrote from the data we collected.