Home Tech Why Facebook will not be influential in the UK general election

Why Facebook will not be influential in the UK general election

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Why Facebook will not be influential in the UK general election

ANDHave you heard the one about the drunk who looks for his keys under the streetlight? After an eternity of walking back and forth, scanning the ground looking for them, his friend asks him where he thinks he dropped them. He points across the road, toward an area of ​​darkness. “Why don’t you look there then?” his friend asks. He shrinks his shoulders. “Because this is where the light is.” Good joke. Everyone laughs.

Let’s talk about online political ads.

“Microtargeting” is no more, explains Jim Waterson of the Guardian:

Don’t expect to see Cambridge Analytica-style micro-targeted political ads powered by personal data during this general election – the tactic is considered by many to be an ineffective “red herring” and is increasingly being blocked by social media platforms. Digital strategist Tom Edmonds said Facebook had banned political campaigns from using many of the tactics used in past races. “Running a campaign targeting 500 people didn’t make them much money and just got them a lot of shit,” he said.

Microtargeting was feared because of the potential for harmful effects on democracy: if a thousand different messages could be directed at a thousand different demographic groups, then the whole idea of ​​a single national conversation begins to fall apart. Instead, what happened is that it didn’t really work.

Ultimately, the biggest competitor to companies like Cambridge Analytica was Facebook itself. It doesn’t make much sense to spend large sums of money profiling individual voters to microtarget them when the social network’s advertising tools allow you to simply hand over all targeting decisions to Facebook itself. The social network allows advertisers to set “performance goals” (such as sales, clicks or subscriptions), set a spending limit, and sit back and watch as you move forward and do what you think maximizes return. The company will even choose the best combination of words and images to increase your chances of success.

But Facebook can only help you so much. If you’re creating ads for specific candidates, for example, who should you focus your time and money on: people who could win or people who are definitely going to lose? If you said the latter, you might work for the Conservative Party. From our history:

The strategy is known within the party as the “80/20” approach, in which it focuses all of its spending on the 80 seats it came closest to losing in 2019 and the 20 seats it came closest to winning.

Reports on Facebook ad spending show that these voters are exactly where the party funnels its money. More than half of the party’s spending on the social network since January has gone to its 80 tightest seats, or seats it doesn’t hold at all.

Conference workers speak in front of a demonstration booth at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, California. Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

We began monitoring meta advertising spend to try to determine if the reported “80/20 strategy” was holding up. It is one thing to propose two years before the elections; It is quite another to move forward when the elections are barely a month away.

But we also started tracking meta advertising spend because we could. The company maintains a library of all political ads, discloses total spending and requires residency verification before people can launch new ads. That library has come under a lot of criticism over the years, but at least it exists. More than that, it has a robust toolset that allows us to write our own software to query it, meaning we can answer more serious questions than “are there any interesting ads that someone has recently paid for?”

However, like the drunk searching for his keys, it’s unlikely that the story is actually on Facebook. In large parts of the country, conversations that once took place on the public social network have shifted to private channels, led by Meta’s own WhatsApp. What remains on Facebook itself is inundated with AI-generated garbage and separated from reality after an algorithmic tweak meant to boost “friends and family” content (doubly so on Threads, Twitter’s Twitter clone). Meta, which actively and openly downgrades political content on Facebook). all.

There are more conversations on TikTok, but coverage on that platform is difficult. The Observer analyzed the digital campaigns, but in the case of TikTok, was forced to focus on the official feeds of the parties themselves:

TikTok is free (it doesn’t allow paid advertising from politicians or parties), but it’s not easy: social media teams must work harder to persuade the app’s notoriously opaque algorithm to organically float its content to people’s phones. users, which becomes more likely as more people like, share, comment or repost videos. For smaller, nimbler groups with lower budgets, TikTok will feel like there’s everything to gain: views, engagement, and people finally discovering who they are. Creators who know how it’s done believe the Labor Party is off to a better start.

There is an election conversation on TikTok. In fact, there are many, with the platform’s carefully curated algorithmic feed allowing each demographic to have its own unique discourse. But it’s almost impossible to observe from the outside, except for brute force techniques like adding up the view counts of videos tagged as “Sunak.”

Even worse, of course, for the conversation on WhatsApp. With its end-to-end encryption and few public “channels,” doing data journalism to track election chats is a dead end.

And then there is AI. There is a lingering suspicion that the rise of artificial intelligence systems will have some kind of effect on this election, but again, we are forced to look where the light is. The deepfaked video going viral on Twitter, the platform currently known as X, is very obvious (and actually unseen until now). Hesitant voters having conversations with ChatGPT trying to determine where they should put their X are invisible, if that’s even happening.

In the UK, these questions seem largely academic. Aside from a few personality-driven local races, the end results seem more like a foregone conclusion than at any other time in my life to date. But when the United States goes to the polls in five months, the same questions will be asked, and the answers could be key to determining which side the coin will fall on.

Then we better try to find them.

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