Many of our Delta Lab students presented their research in May 2021 at the Wesleyan Media Project’s Political Advertising Workshop. Others conducted research over the summer and presented posters. Summaries of these projects are shared below.
Although Facebook requires sponsors of ads about politics, elections, and social issues to disclose who paid for the advertisement, how much was spent, and who was targeted, there have been a number of instances in which Facebook has failed to recognize and label these advertisements. A study by digital experts at NYU found that Facebook failed to label and identify 9.7% of ads relating to elections and other social issues between May 2018 and June 2019, representing a total spend of 37 million dollars (Silverman). Another analysis of Facebook’s Ad Library found that in many instances Facebook has grossly overreported or underreported spending, resulting in unexplained spikes in cumulative advertiser spend or the number of total ads. Since there has been a lot of discussion surrounding both the accuracy of Facebook’s data and its failure to disclose who paid for all of the political advertisements on the platform, I was curious to see if Google, another major platform for political advertisements, was having similar problems reporting all the ads related to politics and the election.
According to the NYT and several other news outlets, as the election neared, polling in battleground states like Texas and Florida indicated that Biden was not leading Trump with the Latino vote in every case. And even in the cases when he did hold a lead, it was by a much smaller margin than Clinton did against Trump in 2016.
This was significant because as the Latino electorate has grown in the US, especially in key battleground states, both parties have been eager to target Latino voters in their ads to garner their support. I wanted to conduct research this semester that would allow me to dig into these ads for the presidential race. While this could include a variety of different methods, I chose to investigate how each candidate might be targeting Latino voters through Facebook advertising in Spanish.
Data used in this analysis came directly from the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising through Facebook’s Ad Library API tool and Ad Library Report.
The booming market for political advertisements on digital platforms remains dominated by two major players, Facebook and Google. Together, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have spent nearly $300 million on ads run on these platforms since mid-April. However, a new player may be emerging in social media app Snapchat, which boasts an audience of 249 million daily active users and has shown significant levels of political advertisement activity.
Snap Inc., the parent company behind Snapchat, recently made waves in the stock market after posting record earnings in the third quarter. Analysts attributed this growth to both a surge in average ad prices, up 20 percent in the past year, and an increased demand from advertisers.
According to the New York Times, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement may be the largest movement in U.S. history. With fifteen to twenty-six million people protesting across the country after the murder of George Floyd, the quantity of people and their geographic spread has made it clear that racial justice is a very present issue for many Americans.
Protests and demonstrations are an essential part of the democratic process and can have a great impact on candidates’ platforms. Additionally, the ways that candidates frame the movement, either positively or negatively, can shape its future. Due to the prevalence of the movement, we were interested in researching how the movement has influenced presidential and senatorial campaigns. Conversely, we are also interested in how candidates talk about BLM, as they may provide some clues about the future of the movement. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, over $60 million has been spent on pro-Biden or pro-Trump Facebook ads alone between April 9th to August 8th. How prominent is the Black Lives Matter movement in these ads? How big of an influence has the movement had on these campaigns?
To evaluate this, we analyzed the frequency, content and spend percentages of the ads related to Black Lives Matter. Data used in this analysis came directly from the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising through Facebook’s Ad Library API tool.
In its tracking of campaign spending on Facebook, Wesleyan Media Project focuses on identifying the sources of money behind the ads. Facebook requires that advertisers post the “Paid for By” disclaimer, listing the organization that paid for the ad. Often, the same organization will engage dozens of Facebook pages to post the ads. Together with the Center for Responsible Politics, WMP matches the Facebook records against external data to identify the sponsors behind political ads. The numbers you are seeing in the map are an aggregation of the amounts posted by Facebook in the spending reports on the Facebook Ad Library webpage. We report the spending by week, with Sunday being the first day of a week.
Please click here (or click the image below) to use this interactive tool.
In Facebook’s Ad Library, Facebook reports spending on political advertisements by day, week, 30-day, and 90-day summaries, and total spending to date by Facebook Page and Disclaimer (for example, Page: Donald J. Trump, Disclaimer: TRUMP MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN COMMITTEE).
Through long-term monitoring of the Facebook reports, we became aware that not every day’s numbers can be trusted the same. An analyst or a reporter who decides to use a daily download from Facebook may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Three Delta Lab students are presenting their research using Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) data during virtual sessions this summer. Two Delta Lab students, Brianna Mebane (’22) and Roshaan Siddiqui (‘22), presented their ongoing work and preliminary findings at Wesleyan University’s virtual Summer 2020 Research Poster Session on July 30, and Adina Gitomer (’20) will be presenting her work with Saray Shai at the Politics and Computational Social Science (PaCSS) and Political Networks (PolNet) virtual conference on August 13, 2020. Read a little more about their work below.
Previous studies of gender in political advertising indicate strong similarities between the self-presentations of male and female candidates in ads (Sapiro, Walsh, Strach & Hennings, 2011). Because past studies have focused only on federal government races, we aim to update these findings with data on advertising in down ballot races in addition to federal races. We also use data from 2012 and 2016 in order to examine a potential change over time with respect to gender differences.
Tracking Facebook ad references to the pandemic from candidates and their affiliated pages
Presidential campaigns, including leadership PACs and single-candidate super PACs, have spent upwards of $185 million on Facebook advertisements since the beginning of 2019, as reported by the Wesleyan Media Project. By comparison, $751 million has been spent on TV ads from all sponsors in the presidential race. In recent weeks, as a narrowing of the field coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of TV advertisements seems to have decreased significantly.