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Targeted Facebook advertising proved very effective in the 2016 US presidential election


Donald Trump’s campaign reportedly spent $ 44 million on Facebook and ran 175,000 variations of political advertisements during the campaign, compared to $ 28 million for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Was this money well spent?

New research from the University of Warwick, the ETH Zurich and the University Carlos III in Madrid has shown the effectiveness of micro-targeted political advertising on social media.

Online political campaigns targeting Facebook users based on gender, location, and political affiliation significantly increased support for Republican candidate Donald Trump. The micro-targeted campaigns that took advantage of Facebook’s profiling tools were very effective in convincing undecided voters to support Mr Trump and in convincing Republican supporters to attend election day.

The effects of intense online campaigns were greatest among voters who used Facebook regularly; among those who relied on them as their main source of news; and for voters with no university or college education.

Politics in the Facebook Era: Evidence from the US Presidential Elections 2016 is believed to be the first analysis of the scale of political campaigns conducted on Facebook to target voters and the impact these campaigns had on voting behavior.

Dr. Michela Redoano, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick, said: “Digital campaigns are also much cheaper than campaigns in traditional media thanks to the use of social networks, they are easily accessible and practically free from regulation.

“Thanks to predictive analytics, companies like Facebook offer a toolkit to target voters on an extremely granular level based on their previous online behavior. These online campaign channels are potentially very powerful policy tools.

“It is therefore important that we understand how political campaigns work on social media, how they affect voter behavior and, ultimately, the election result.”

Dr. Federica Liberini from ETH Zurich says: “Our research has enabled us to develop a simple measure to follow the intensity of political campaigns on social media. In the context of the US presidential elections in 2016, we find that political micro-targeting was particularly effective when based on ideology and gender or educational level, and even less so when based on race or age. Our results show that social media is effective in empowering politicians to influence key constituencies in election campaigns, and it is further evidence that recent policy outcomes, such as Brexit and the election of President Trump, could be largely due to the use of data analytics. “

Dr. Antonio Russo from ETH Zurich added: “Our finding that Facebook had a strong influence on voter turnout suggests that social media has great potential to promote political participation by people who otherwise lost interest in politics In a world where confidence in democracy is dwindling, I think this is good news. There is still a lot to learn, however, about whether the information voters get on social media really helps them make informed decisions. “

Dr. Angel Cuevas and Dr. Ruben Cuevas of the Carlos III University in Madrid commented: “This contribution contributes to an incipient literature that uses Facebook data in a completely privacy-conscious way as a novel and extremely valuable data source to address important socio-economic issues.

“In this regard, we have already used Facebook data to measure the gender gap around the world, and we are using an ongoing work to develop a new way of measuring culture. We would also like to highlight that this data is for promotion.” “fruitful multidisciplinary collaboration between computer scientists and social scientists.”

The researchers also show that reading politics on Facebook doesn’t improve political knowledge as much as reading a newspaper.

“This is a worrying scenario as more people are replacing social media as an important source of information,” added Dr. Redoano added.

Politics in the Facebook Era: Evidence from the 2016 US Presidential Elections by Federica Liberini, Michela Redoano, Antonio Russo, Angel Cuevas and Ruben Cuevas is published in the Center for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE.) At the University of Warwick) Working Paper Series, available online at: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/centres/cage/publications/workingpapers


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