On Friday we spent the day working with the LSE’s Department of Media and Communications and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. We’re putting in the groundwork make sure the data WhoTargets.Me gathers on Facebook advertising is reliable.
Students and staff from LSE worked on ‘coding’ the data – coming up with a robust system for manually categorising each advert. This work, which can be laborious, brings academic rigour to what might otherwise be an arbitrary process. It means that we are going to get high quality, reliable statistics from the raw data.
Working with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism we began to build a system to help journalists, especially local journalists, find out more about political Facebook adverts. We already have a huge list of adverts that volunteers have seen on their Facebook pages, so we need to give journalists a helping hand by filtering out the most important material.
Everyone sees a unique combination of Facebook adverts. This means there can be challenging questions about how the data we gather represents what’s happening on Facebook as a whole. One of the issues that we discussed on Friday was how to make sure we have the best data possible, by making sure lots of volunteers of different ages and from different locations have installed the plugin. We’re not going to have perfect coverage – although we are doing pretty well, nearly 5000 sign ups so far. There are lots of techniques we can use to correct for problems in the sample – just as opinion polls do. We’re all working together to make sure we get that process right.
WhoTargets.Me set out with a goal of bringing transparency to political advertising on Facebook, and university researchers and journalists are both incredibly important to that mission. Published academic research can play a part in persuading politicians to improve advertising regulations for elections, which needs updating for the age of social media.
Journalists also play a vital role. Every time a story is written using WhoTargets.Me, that story shows that targeted social media advertising is an important part of democratic debate. It can help people understand the adverts they see when they go online, and it will help make politicians responsible for what happens in digital campaigns.
The more volunteers, the better the data, the more we can understand what political parties are getting up to on Facebook – so sign up now. We’ll keep everyone updated with new developments as they happen – so do subscribe to the newsletter!