We collected Facebook ads from our readers throughout 2018 in order to hold Facebook accountable, understand political tactics and fact-check politicians. This project was a collaboration between several journalists at ProPublica, as well as 10+ domestic and international partners.
After the departure of two colleagues who had started the project, I led the project, managing or assisting in managing news reporting, coordination with partners – as well as maintaining the technology.
The project is open source and available at https://www.github.com/propublica/political-facebook-ads (extension, front-end site and Rust backend) and https://www.github.com/propublica/fbpac-api (the Rails backend).
Stories colleagues and I wrote based on this project so far (as of 6/3/2018) include:
- sneaky tactics by an Ohio gubernatorial campaign to run negative ads on Facebook under the name of “Ohio Primary Info”.
- the inadequacy of Facebooks transparency database – which was missing ads at launch and missing important categories of data.
- an explainer of one way Facebook enables little-known Democratic candidates to raise money – advertising to people who like the page of more prominent Democrats.
This project was based in part on a very similar project I started at The New York Times before the 2016 election, so I was glad to get a chance to put into practice the lessons I had learned – and benefit from my ProPublica colleagues’ great ideas on how to do it better.