About Who Targets Me

Over the last 10 years, the lack of transparency of online political advertising has contributed to skepticism about the activities of political campaigns and the fairness of elections. 

The infrastructure for these ads is provided by the giant internet companies, who turn their users into targetable pools of voters that politicians, interest groups and corporations pay millions to reach. Some argue that this is nothing new, and it’s just campaigning by another name. After all, politicians have always used the best technology available to them, whether that’s a soapbox, the radio or TV.

We disagree.

Paid political adverts on social media are cheaper and more targeted than any other political communication in history. We therefore think it’s vitally important that the way they’re used is well-understood.

When we started Who Targets Me in 2017, there was no way to know how campaigns used ads. As a result, there was huge public concern about politicians misusing personal data to excessively mictotarget their campaigns, widespread misinformation and foreign influence campaigns.

So our immediate mission was to create political advertising transparency where none existed by asking people to install our browser extension, and help crowdsource the ads they saw. Over 15,000 people in the UK installed the extension within a week of its launch. Over 100,000 more have joined them since.

Our work created a dialogue about what transparency was needed. We wanted platform ad libraries (and ultimately got them), we wanted to know more about ad targeting (eventually they started to publish this data) and we wanted more standardisation in law (which the EU is now starting to provide).

Our mission, to this day, is to keep pushing these ideas forward. We think:

  • Social media companies should publish comprehensive information about all political advertising content, targeting and spending, governed by a common standard.
  • Laws governing elections need to be updated to account for the current era of digital and AI-driven campaigning. 
  • Regulators must be given tough new powers to enforce these laws.
  • Journalists and citizens can use this new transparency to better hold political actors to account for what they say in their ads.

Beyond our policy work, we continue to build software that makes political ads easier to understand. For example, we now track digital campaign spending, targeting and messaging in over 50 countries, aided by local civil society and journalist partners who do an incredible job of increasing accountability for the elections they cover.

We build software and work with partners because there are still massive gaps in platform political ad transparency. They just aren’t consistent in the data they publish, and they don’t do enough to help users understand what they see. The tools we build, and the datasets we maintain, try to fix that.

Our small team is funded by supporter donations and the following foundations (among others):

Logos of some of our foundation funders