What is Who Targets Me?

Who Targets Me monitors the use of political adverts on social media. Our software helps researchers and journalists understand the use of targeted social media advertising by political campaigns. We analyse the anonymous advertising data you help collect to explain the strategies campaigns are using to win votes.

The project was founded by Sam Jeffers and Louis Knight-Webb in 2017. It’s citizen-led and non-partisan. Our goal is to increase transparency and trust in democracy. We do this by explaining what we see in the data, and by making recommendations that we think the platform companies and regulators should adopt to increase transparency for political adverts. To do this, we work with some of the leading academics and journalists in this field.

Our primary sources of funding have been the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Open Society Foundations Information Programme and Democracy Fund, along with smaller sums for partnerships with Oxford and Sheffield Universities, Buzzfeed Germany and InternetLab in Brazil. We are always looking for interesting partnerships and funding opportunities around the world. If you wish to discuss your ideas, please get in touch.

How does it work?

Who Targets Me is a browser extension for Chrome or Firefox (desktop-only). To set it up, you create an anonymous profile (age, gender, location, political leaning) and continue to use Facebook as normal. The software collects the Facebook adverts you see and adds them to the Who Targets Me database. Once you start to see political adverts, it provides you with a personalised breakdown of those posts, along with links to them, and information about why you were targeted with that advert.

If you no longer wish to participate, you can remove the extension and/or delete any data associated with it, at any time.

Install for ChromeInstall for Firefox

What do you get?

Who Targets Me’s extension collects and display the political Facebook advertising you’re targeted with.

Screenshot of Who Targets Me extension

It currently identifies political adverts from major parties in: UK, EU, Canada, USA, Australia, Brazil, Ukraine and Israel.

Why does the project exist?

Campaigns around the world now invest heavily in their digital campaigns as they look for ever more effective ways of persuading voters to support them. They spend years accumulating data about voters. They harness the power of the giant internet companies to help them reach millions or billions of people. They hire consultancies like Cambridge Analytica to help them analyse the electorate, split it into persuadable groups and develop highly personalised adverts for every voter.

The risks to open democratic debate are serious. Campaigns are targeting the electorate in ever narrower ways, using voters’ hopes and fears to influence their thinking. Some argue that this isn’t different to traditional forms of campaigning. We disagree. Political adverts on social media are cheaper and more targeted than any other advertising in history. Furthermore, you see them once, and they’re gone. To date, there’s been no permanent record of the advertising with which you can hold campaigns accountable (or investigate further if you suspect bad things are happening). Though this is changing, the big platforms haven’t yet gone far enough, and election regulators around the world are still scrambling to catch up with the issue.

As things stand, anyone with a credit card and a social media profile – whether that’s your local candidate or a state working to undermine democracy – can target voters with highly specific adverts designed to influence their political opinions.

We think the best way to campaign for transparency is to try and create it. That means building a dataset of political adverts and targeting. To take part, please install Who Targets Me.

Install for ChromeInstall for Firefox

What do we want?

We think campaigns and platforms should help people understand why they’re being targeted. We also think that voters deserve the maximum possible transparency about the messages other voters see. By making political adverts transparent, voters can hold these messages accountable for their content and strategy, see who’s behind them and how much they’re spending.

We want:

  1. Social media platforms to provide detailed information about the content, targeting and spending by campaigns on political adverts.
  2. Electoral regulators around the world to set high standards of transparency for political adverts and hold campaigns and platforms accountable for meeting them.

How are we doing?

As of June 2018, Facebook provides two tiers of transparency. All adverts that a page is currently running are visible via their page. As such, there are no more ‘dark ads’ on their platform. Alongside this, in the US, they also provide a higher level of transparency for so-called ‘issue’ ads (which includes political adverts). This includes some information about the reach, spend and demographics of who saw the ad.

Similarly, Twitter makes all adverts that an account has run in the last 7 days visible, but provides no information about reach, targeting or spend.

Google (including Youtube), Snapchat and most other advertising platforms haven’t yet made moves to improve transparency.

Alongside this, a number of legislators and regulators around the world have begun to draft legislation or recommendations about how political adverts should be regulated.

Therefore, although we’re making progress and transparency is increasing, there’s still a lot of work to do to get election law to reflect the reality of 21st century campaigning.

Coverage of Who Targets Me

The project has received substantial media coverage, including BBC TV, BBC Radio and BBC Online, Sky News, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Internationally, it has been covered in the New York Times, CNN, CNBC, Asahi Shimbun and many more.