Micro-Targeting, Social Media, and Third Party Advertising: Why the Facebook Ad Library Cannot Prevent Threats to Canadian Democracy
In "Cyber-threats to Canadian Democracy." Holly Ann Garnett and Michael Pal, eds, forthcoming from McGill-Queens University Press
41 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2021
Date Written: January 1, 2021
This chapter discusses the democratic threats associated with micro-targeted advertising from third parties, using the Facebook Ad Library (FAL) as a case study to assess whether this type of tool can effectively prevent these potential threats to Canadian electoral integrity. We will analyze third parties’ use of Facebook during the 2019 federal election to understand their online advertising strategies, as well as evaluate whether the FAL can help identify reprehensible behavior, such as violations of the Canadian Election Act. Thus, this chapter focuses on two main research questions: (Q1) How does the information stored in the FAL help its users better understand the content of third parties’ electoral messages? (Q2) How does the information stored in the FAL help its users better understand third parties’ micro-targeting tactical operations? We hypothesize that while the FAL can help its users understand the content of third party messages, it does a poor job of providing useful information on the parameters of their online distribution strategy, and therefore does not effectively prevent democratic threats related to micro-targeting techniques.
In this chapter we first discuss the importance of third parties in Canadian elections, and the democratic threats associated with micro-targeted advertising. We then present the Facebook Advertising Library and the limitations of this type of tool identified in the literature. Next, we use the “Strong and Proud” network as a case study to examine whether the FAL effectively helped Canadians assess how third parties used the social network for micro-targeted advertising during the 2019 campaign. A discussion of the apparent limitations of the tool concludes the chapter.
Keywords: Microtargeting, Micro-targeting, elections, political communication, data-driven campaigns, Facebook, Canada
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation