Corporate News

Canadian political ads on Facebook – what are you seeing?

Feb. 22, 2018

With three provincial elections looming in 2018 (Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick), political parties are gearing up their Facebook ad campaigns. But what are Canadians seeing on their feeds?

The Globe and Mail wants to find out. Because Facebook can specifically target ads that can only be seen by a defined group of people (such as university educated women with children who work in finance), it’s almost impossible to tell who is being promised what.

“We know how large a role Facebook played in U.S. elections, but we know almost nothing about how political parties are targeting ads to specific people,” says Globe data journalist Tom Cardoso. “Are the ads consistent for all audiences? Do they shift tone or message depending on who they want to see the ad?”

To find out how these political ads are being used, The Globe has partnered with the U.S. investigative journalism non-profit ProPublica. ProPublica designed a browser extension – the Facebook Political Ad Collector – that logs political ads into a database. Reporters will be able to look at the many variations of political ads, and their targets, to see if what you see is close to what comes up on your neighbour’s feed.

Canadians are being asked to download the extension, which uses Google Chrome and Firefox to scan a Facebook feed for political ads and log them into a database for reporting and analysis. Reporters will not see any individual’s personal information and the source code is available for public inspection. The Globe has already logged several thousand general Facebook ads for review.

“Knowing what messages political parties are sending through social media platforms such as Facebook is key to understanding how Canadians are making democratic decisions,” says David Walmsley, Globe Editor-in-Chief. “Journalists need access to this kind of data to shed light on hidden aspects of the Canadian political process.”

Learn more about this innovative Globe project here: