New data source

Social media thrives on debate and opinion, but should you believe everything you read in your feed, and particularly the ads that are used to target you? 

In an attempt to make advertising spending by political and social groups more transparent, Facebook has introduced Ad Library. It’s a searchable data base showing who is spending what on social and political causes on the social network and as such is a valuable tool for journalists and content producers.

Ad Library Report

Facebook began collating data for a number of countries at different times in the last year or so. The Ad Library report on the USA dates back to May 2018. In that time Facebook has received $785 million for almost 5 million ads from political candidates, parties and groups.

In Canada, where a general election campaign is in full swing, almost CAD$7 million has been spent on 54,000 Facebook ads since June 2019.

UK Facebook Ads

In the UK, Ad Library data goes back to October 2018, and it shows the political turmoil surrounding Brexit has helped the social network to earn more that £7 million from almost 98,000 ads in just under a year.

Of that total £553,422 was spent by the UK government, almost all of it on information ads about how citizens, haulage firms and exporters should prepare for Brexit.

Drilling down into the data, content producers and journalists can find information for specific time periods. So, in the 30 days to September 18, 2019, UK government topped the spending list with £237,837 on 10 ads. 

The Facebook Ad Library lists specific adverts with details of a disclaimer revealing the organisation promoting the particular page. With different parties funding a range of campaigns it is not entirely clear which of the parties has the highest overall spend. However, over that 30-day period the Liberal Democrats spent £39,794 on 141 ads promoting the party, while Labour spent £16,290 on 321 ads promoting itself, with the Conservatives spending £5,319 on ads for the party as a whole. 

Pages promoting party leaders were funded in addition to party campaigns. Ad Library shows £26,514 was spent on Nigel Farage, £11,933 on Jeremy Corbyn and £2,511 on Boris Johnson. Brexit Party chairman and MEP, Richard Tice was promoted in 14 adverts costing £3,566.

Over the same 30-day period, England accounted for the lion’s share of political advertising with £836,094 spent followed by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with £73,971, £55,414 and £18,727 respectively. 

Regional governments are also big Facebook advertisers with the Greater London Authority spending £23,130 in 30 days. The 2020 election for West Midlands mayor has also spawned Facebook ad campaigns. The current MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, Liam Byrne, is Labour’s candidate for Mayor, while the Conservative incumbent is the former John Lewis boss Andy Street. In the 30-day period to September 18, Liam Byrne spent £1260 on Facebook ads compared to an outlay of £981 by Andy Street.

Looking ahead to a possible general election, it is clear some candidates are putting their faith in Facebook. Two sitting Conservative MPs in marginal constituencies, Lee Rowley and Eddie Hughes, spent £1,098 and £1,099 respectively on their campaigns in North East Derbyshire and Walsall North, while one of Theresa May’s former special advisers, Mario Creatura, the Conservative’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central, spent £1,043 on Facebook advertising over the month.

Facebook Ad Library has been designed to shed light on political campaigns and it is clear this transparency drive will provide academic researchers, journalists and content producers with a gold mine of data as they cover elections as well as grass roots campaigns in the months and years ahead.

Published by Tom Hill

Up To Speed Media's owner Tom Hill is a journalist who has worked in print and broadcast journalism for three decades.

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