Targeted political advertising can create political filter bubbles, echo chambers, and is suspected of dividing people and increasing the circulation of misinformation. The majority of the ads exchanged online are commercial as commercial targeted advertising is the primary source of revenue in the internet economy, but how much do we know about how it affects our freedoms and rights?

Let’s say a certain political party may want to target voters in a specific category of the population to communicate its campaign ideas. These ideas could include genuine or false information. Well, reaching potential voters through the mainstream media alone is no longer sufficient and does not yield the desired results, especially with the growing distrust of the government and the mainstream media among a large audience.

As such, In order to tailor the narrative, reach, engage, change behavior and measure results, every political entity had to integrate social media as an inseparable part of its political communications.

They could reach, through targeted advertising, potential voters who are interested in or inclined to buy into its particular narrative. And if the data the political party has access to is fine-grained enough, it can also target anyone with a browsing history for a similar narrative. In fact, the rise of an always-connected audience has given marketers and politicians a very extensive toolbox to shape the way we think and act.

HOW DOES PROFILING WORK?

As we have previously explained in ‘The Big Tech Economic Model Favors Disinformation‘, the Big Tech platform’s business model is largely funded by advertising. This means that rather than paying for services with money, Big Tech companies monetize our behavior, attention and personal data.

In order to maximize potential revenue for the Tech Giants, online advertising is increasingly individualized and tailored to specific groups or individuals. Most of us have a smartphone. Most of us carry a smartphone with us at all times, which has opened up new opportunities for marketers and political communications professionals to capture our attention and influence our daily behavior at all times.

In fact, we are secretly assigned several types of unique identifiers, or serial numbers, to which a vast amount of different information is attached. These personal identifiers are also used to track us across services and devices, which all feed data into the profiles that are compiled about every individual.

Through these identifiers, each of us is being categorized, bought and sold on a massive marketplace operating largely outside of the consumer sphere, in an industry collectively known as the digital marketing and adtech industry. Our personalities, predispositions and secret desires are continuously monitored and collected by a vast amount of more or less obscure companies, all for the purpose of persuading us to buy particular products, act in a certain way, or vote in a certain direction

By combining big data analysis with behavioral psychology, some actors in this system are capable of predicting what voters want before the want arises. This leveraging of behavioral psychology in combination with predictive algorithms has given rise to what can be broadly defined as data-driven persuasion.

This being understood, political communication companies engaging in behavioral advertising operate on the premise that, by targeting the public with precisely the right message at the right moment, the chances of adherence increase.

Behavioral advertising is controversial though. Critics argue that the practice enables discrimination, potentially only offering certain groups of people economic opportunities. They also say serving people ads based on what big tech companies assume they’re interested in potentially leaves people vulnerable to scamsfraud, and disinformation. Notoriously, the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used personal data gleaned from Facebook profiles to target certain Americans with pro-Trump messages and certain Britons with pro-Brexit ads. 

To sum up, profiling and targeted ads are powerful tools, but they have proved to be a double-edged blade. They can be used for both the good and bad of the population.

Read our next post in order to find out How to Protect Your Online Data & Avoid Targeted Misinformation Campaigns


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