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Help us monitor political advertising on Facebook in your state

The Facebook logo
It can be difficult to fact-check political ads on Facebook and whether they breach any laws around disclosure. Photograph: NurPhoto via Getty Images

Are you Tasmanian, South Australian or Victorian and care about holding politicians to account? If so, we need your help.

During the current and upcoming state election campaigns you may be targeted with political advertising on Facebook.

Politicians and other interest groups are using Facebook to tailor political advertising to specific groups, based on people’s interests – using information from Facebook such as interest in “community”, “prayer”, “same-sex marriage”, or your age and location.

And, if these ads don’t appear in your feed, it is almost impossible to know about them. This makes it very difficult to fact-check their content, or determine if they breach any laws around disclosure, as we saw during the the same-sex marriage survey.

The only way you can see if a post has been “sponsored” (that is, turned into an ad) is if it appears in your feed. For anyone else looking at the post, there is no definitive indication that it was sponsored.

Sponsored posts can also be hidden from the public and not show up on advertisers’ pages at all. This tactic was seen throughout the Trump US election campaign in 2016 and is believed to have contributed to his victory. Facebook has since come under significant political pressure in the US and has committed to improving the transparency of political advertising on its site.

So, what can be done about it?

You can help make political advertising more transparent by recording these ads and the associated targeting information in two different ways, either by sending us screenshots or using a browser plugin.

Submit ads via ProPublica’s browser plugin

ProPublica has developed a browser plugin for Chrome and Firefox that automatically collects ads when you are on Facebook and allows you to classify the ads collected as “political” or “not political”.

The political ads are sent to ProPublica’s database, along with the ad-targeting information. The ad-targeting information categories are usually things such as an age bracket, gender, a general geographic location and interest in a topic. You can see the information Facebook is using to show you ads by looking at the “adverts” menu in the Facebook settings.

No other information is sent to the database. We are not recording your name, date of birth or any other specifics – just the categories that Facebook provides under the “Why am I seeing this ad?” information panel.

The targeting information is important as it gives us an insight into the demographics or areas political campaigns are interested in targeting.

If you are not comfortable with sharing this information, we suggest you do not install the browser plugin.

We’re partnering with ProPublica to make these ads available in a searchable database on our site, along with the targeting demographics. This will enable greater transparency around political advertising in Australia and give an insight into which segments of the population political organisations are targeting.

If you would like to participate in this project, you can install the browser plugin for Chrome here, and the plugin for Firefox here.

Once you have installed the plugin, click on it to go through the set-up process. After the plugin is set up, you can collect ads by scrolling through Facebook, and then to send them to us you need to classify the ads collected as “political ad” or “normal ad” by clicking on the plugin again.

Submit ads through our form or via email

If you mostly use Facebook on your mobile or don’t want to install a browser plugin, please submit screenshots of the ad in your feed using the form below, following these instructions.

Take a screenshot of the ad content with the “sponsored” text clearly visible. If this doesn’t cover all of the important ad content, feel free to then take multiple other screenshots.

Annotated screenshot of the Facebook app
Annotated screenshot of the Facebook app showing how to access the ad targeting information. Photograph: Facebook

Then, click on the three dots “...” at the top right of the ad and select “Why am I seeing this”, and screenshot the ad targeting information.

Screenshot from the Facebook app showing ad targeting information
Screenshot from the Facebook app showing ad targeting information. Photograph: Facebook

Finally, send us the screenshots with this form (unfortunately it can only take one file at a time, you will have to fill it out twice):

If everything else fails, just email us at australia.elections@theguardian.com.

This article titled "Help us monitor political advertising on Facebook in your state" was written by Nick Evershed, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13 February 2018 10.40pm

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