Facebook Political Ads And Accountability: Outside Groups Are Most Negative, Especially When Microtargeting Or Hiding Donors

by   Shomik Jain, et al.

The emergence of online political advertising has come with little regulation. As a result, social media platforms provide venues for political advertising with little accountability attached. Where accountability for political speech is lacking, we may expect the speech to be more divisive. This is particularly true for outside groups like Super PACs and dark money groups, most of whom disappear after elections. In this work, we analyze how campaign finance disclosure and microtargeting relate to the sentiment of political ads on Facebook. We obtained 790,303 ads from Facebook's political ad library that ran between August-November 2018. We compare ads run by candidates, parties, and two types of outside groups: those that disclose their donors and those that are funded by dark money. Dark money outside groups ran ads with the most negative sentiment on average, whereas candidates ran ads with the most positive sentiment. Outside groups ran 62 outnumbering ads with more transparent campaign financing (3:2). A majority of ads (63 used microtargeting to run ads that have more negative sentiment, and candidates and parties used it to run ads with more positive sentiment. These results suggest that accountability for speech matters. Microtargeting of online political advertisements facilitates more extreme tone differences between outside groups and candidates, and advertising by more transparent campaign organizations has more positive sentiment than advertising from less transparent organizations.


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