How political candidates target you on social media based on your music tastes, shopping habits, and favorite TV shows

How political candidates target you on social media based on your music tastes, shopping habits, and favorite TV shows

And Michael Bennett wants to reach people who like Taylor Swift and Lizzo, while avoiding devoted Jason Aldean listeners.

Candidates in some of the highest-profile midterm races are using Facebook and Instagram ad targeting to message voters based on their music tastes, sports hobbies, shopping destinations and TV habits, a data review found. of CNN’s social media platforms.

“There’s very little in American culture, whether it’s media organizations, music groups or brands, that doesn’t have some kind of political association,” said Samuel Woolley, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who directs the Research Laboratory of School advertisement. “Political campaigns are using that to their advantage.”

The tactic is made possible through a service Meta calls “Detailed Guidance.” It allows political campaigns and other advertisers to show their ads to people who share specific interests, or makes sure that people who are interested in certain issues do not see their ads. Facebook determines whether a user is interested in a topic based on the ads they click on and the pages they interact with, according to the company.
It has long been routine practice for political campaigns to use this interest-based targeting for Facebook ads. But earlier this year, Meta stopped advertisers from targeting users based on their interests in social issues, causes or political figures, saying it was removing options for “topics that people may perceive as sensitive.” The change removed the ability to target ads to people interested in climate change or Second Amendment rights, or former presidents Barack Obama or Donald Trump, for example.

In the wake of that shift, political strategists say, campaigns have turned to pop culture as a substitute for politics when trying to reach certain groups of voters.

“It requires us to do a little more research and understand who these audiences are: what kinds of music do they listen to, what kinds of TV shows do they watch,” said Eric Reif, an executive at the Democratic political firm. Blue State. That may involve business data, survey research, or data from Spotify or streaming video platforms, he said.

Overall, Democratic candidates in 20 of the most competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races are using Facebook and Instagram ads far more than their opponents, spending more than $4 million on ads on the platforms between mid August and mid-September, compared to around $645,000. by Republicans.

In the 20 races CNN reviewed for that time period, almost all Democratic campaigns targeted at least some ads to users with specific interests, while fewer Republicans did. Many candidates run hundreds of Facebook ads each month, often with different content, and the data doesn’t show which individual ads are targeting which interest groups. That makes it hard to say how exactly campaigns are tailoring their pitches to different groups of voters.

But many of the most common campaign targets involve brands that are stereotypical stand-ins for political trends: Several Democrats targeted people interested in NPR and Whole Foods, while NASCAR and Cracker Barrel were popular choices for the GOP.

The North Carolina Senate race offers perhaps the starkest contrast in goals. Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley targeted interested users at PBS and the New York Times Book Review, while her Republican opponent, Rep. Ted Budd, targeted Barstool Sports and the Hallmark Channel. Beasley excluded those interested in musician Ted Nugent or podcaster Joe Rogan from seeing some of her ads, while Budd targeted ads specifically at fans of the two men.

Rogan, a controversial figure popular on the right, drew more attention from campaigns targeting Facebook ads than any other topic of interest in the period analyzed by CNN. Nine Democratic campaigns barred those interested in Rogan from receiving some of his ads.

But in an apparent sign of how he is reaching out to non-traditional voters, Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, has taken the opposite approach, with his campaign specifically targeting some of his ads at Rogan fans. (Beto O’Rourke, the party’s candidate for governor of Texas, also ran some ads targeting people interested in Rogan, along with other ads that excluded them.)

Megan Clasen, a partner at the Democratic political firm Gambit Strategies, said more generally, interest-based targeting is more effective for candidates trying to reach people who already support them.

Instagram fined $400 million for failing to protect children's data

“It works great for a fundraising or list-building campaign, where you’re really trying to target a smaller audience,” said Clasen, who is working multiple midterm runs. “But when we try to persuade voters, we don’t want to exclude too many people and leave votes on the table.”

Guidance data shows a wide variety of approaches. Rubio, the top senator from Florida, was one of the most active Republican users of interest-based targeting: More than 85% of the Republican’s Facebook ad spend went to ads targeted to users interested in a long list of topics from college football to deer hunting. to Southern Living magazine.

Some of the ads from Bennett, a Democratic senator representing Colorado, were particularly in tune with voters’ playlists. His campaign has targeted people interested in Swift, Lizzo, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, and excluded those interested in country singer Aldean. Bennett’s campaign also targeted devotees of reggaeton and Latin pop music, as well as broader issues such as “Spanish language,” “Mexico culture,” and “Latin American cuisine,” in an apparent bid for Latino voters. (Bennet’s campaign did not respond to a question about how the ad is targeted compared to the senator’s own musical tastes.)

Other candidates’ goals seemed more puzzling. Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s campaign prevented some of her ads from being shown to people interested in Saturday Night Live or to the show’s former member, Kate McKinnon. O’Rourke’s ads targeted people with a diverse list of interests, from BirdWatching Magazine to One Direction to “drinking water.”

While Meta does not allow candidates to target users based on race or ethnicity, they can target users based on gender, age, and location. Several Democratic candidates, including governors. Steve Sisolak from Nevada, Tony Evers from Wisconsin, and Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan targeted a significant portion of their ads specifically to women.

And Fetterman, who has repeatedly criticized his opponent, Mehmet Oz, for his previous New Jersey residency, used the targeting to exclude people in the Garden State from receiving some of his ads.

Segmentation raises data privacy concerns

Facebook’s interest-based targeting isn’t unique: It’s part of a broader trend in the political campaign industry to target increasingly precise groups of voters. Meta allows campaigns to, for example, upload lists of phone numbers or email addresses of specific people they want to see their ads. And newer technologies tailor ads on streaming video and other platforms based on hyper-specific geographic and demographic data, so even neighbors watching the same show could be seeing different political messages.

Experts said the use of this type of targeting raised important questions about data privacy and user consent. Woolley, the UT-Austin researcher, argued that Meta should place even more restrictions on how campaigns can target users.

“People’s data is used without their consent to put them in a box and try to manipulate them into not just buying something, but voting for a particular person or changing their beliefs on a particular issue,” Woolley said. “People have a reasonable expectation that they can participate in specific interests without being targeted for unwarranted political campaigning because of it.”

A whistleblower holding an envelope.

Users can change their Facebook settings to opt out of interest-based targeting for individual topics. But most people probably have no idea they’re seeing certain political ads because of their interests in a band or TV show, Woolley noted.

And Damon McCoy, a New York University professor affiliated with the research group Cybersecurity for Democracy, said the campaigns used interest-based targeting “as a proxy to target a specific demographic that Facebook expressly prohibits,” such as race. or ethnic origin. essentially a way around the platform’s rules.

Meta spokeswoman Ashley Settle said in a statement that the company routinely updates and removes targeting options to improve the ad experience and reduce the potential for abuse.

“We want to connect people with the candidates and issues that matter to them, while giving them control over the ads they see,” Settle said. “That’s why we allow people to hide ads from advertisers or choose to see fewer ads on certain topics, like politics.”

The main reason interest-based targeting is successful for political campaigns is because the US is highly polarized politically, with many cultural cues associated with political leanings in a way that might not have been a few decades ago, the researchers said. experts. Even some of the strategists who use social media targeting admit they are worried about what the tactic says about American culture.

“It’s definitely alarming that people are so polarized now that you can tell a lot about someone’s lifestyle just by whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican,” Clasen said.

See how advertisers are targeting you

To see what interests advertisers can use to target you, go to the Facebook ad themes settings page (only accessible if you’re logged in). You can choose to “see fewer” ads related to specific goals, which prevents advertisers from targeting you based on that interest. You can also click the “…” in the top right corner of any Facebook ad and select “Why am I seeing this ad?” to know the targeting information of the individual ads that are shown to you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.