Who Does(n't) Target You?

Mapping the Worldwide Usage of Online Political Microtargeting

Authors

  • Fabio Votta University of Amsterdam
  • Simon Kruschinski University of Mainz
  • Mads Hove University of Amsterdam
  • Natali Helberger University of Amsterdam
  • Tom Dobber University of Amsterdam
  • Claes de Vreese University of Amsterdam

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.51685/jqd.2024.010

Keywords:

microtargeting, digital campaigns, political advertising

Abstract

Political campaigns are increasingly investing in targeted advertising on social media platforms to reach voters. Despite critical implications for citizens and elections, little is known about the targeting strategies deployed by political parties — especially in countries beyond the global north. This paper provides a comprehensive descriptive analysis of political microtargeting practices on Facebook and Instagram across 95 countries during 113 national elections. By analyzing the Meta Ad Targeting dataset, we explore targeting strategies of 54k political advertisers who ran 2.5 million ads between August 2020 and December 2022. The findings indicate that election campaigns worldwide utilize targeted advertising. Most commonly, spending is allocated towards a single targeting criterion, however, in wealthier countries and electoral systems with proportional representation, a greater amount of money is spent on microtargeting by combining multiple criteria. Furthermore, targeting strategies vary along ideological lines of political parties who seek out voters more typically aligned with each side of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, parties use microtargeting irrespective of political ideology. Our findings offer the first comparative analysis of political microtargeting on Meta platforms for countries across all continents. Methodologically, we introduce a semi-automatic method to identify worldwide political advertisers using multiple data sources. Our study deepens the understanding of how country and party contexts explain differences in targeting strategies, highlighting the need for more research beyond the global north. Finally, our results have important implications for policy makers, and other stakeholders who seek to develop regulations to address the challenges posed by political microtargeting techniques.

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Published

2024-05-01

How to Cite

Votta, F., Kruschinski, S., Hove, M., Helberger, N., Dobber, T., & de Vreese, C. (2024). Who Does(n’t) Target You? Mapping the Worldwide Usage of Online Political Microtargeting. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media , 4. https://doi.org/10.51685/jqd.2024.010

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