Facebook has promised to be more transparent when it comes to political advertising on their platform. They label political ads, show who has paid for them and inform why you got targeted for an ad. And ahead of the EU elections Facebook took on the role as a protector of the elections and opened up (parts of) its ads archive for third parties. From this archive medias like Spiegel Online, SVT , YLE and we at J++ (within the frame of EDJNet), have analysed the political ads of the parties. But maybe we rather ought to be reporting on what we don´t know – to show how badly Facebook lives up to its promises of transparency.
There are two main problems with the data: We don´t know how the parties have aimed their ads and there is no way of getting an overview of all the political ads. Shortly after releasing its API in March this year, Facebook was harshly criticized by Mozilla in a blog post . Also the EU Commission is of the opinion that Facebook ought to do more .
The first problem is revealed in the thorough examination made by SVT of over 4,000 Facebook ads. They have looked at ads by the Facebook pages of the parties and candidates between the national elections in 2018 and May 17th this year. Under the headline ”This is how the parties advertised on Facebook” they show how many men and women have been reached by each party and within which age groups, and the number of ads within different counties. Note the words ”show” and ”reached”, not whom the parties have aimed at.
The second problem is the difficulty of collecting ads from the parties. In order to get ads from Facebook´s API we had to look for specific pages (we limited our search to the pages of the parties, the leader of the parties and the top candidates). However, we soon noticed that many ads came from the pages of the local branches of the parties, and therefore were missing in our data. This problem may be solved by finding all the pages that have advertised in Sweden in Facebook´s report on ads , as Alexander Uggla at the YLE informed us. This offers a good overview, but is still a blunt instrument to use as there is no way to filter for specific days, only for different intervals.
In reply to the SVT article critical of Facebook, the company replied that it will ”strengthen the transparency more further on”.
Facebook ads by party
||Estimation of total ad budget: lower bound (euro)
||Estimation of total ad budget: upper bound (euro)
||N. of ads