NEWS1 August 2017

‘Dark ads’ on Facebook sway political opinion

Behavioural economics News Privacy Public Sector UK

UK – A new study from the Online Privacy Foundation has revealed that ‘dark ads’ based on publicly available interests on Facebook can be used to sway political opinion.

The research used psychographic profiles for individual voters, generated using information on their publicly stated interests. 

The study sorted voters into two groups – high and low authoritarian tendencies (intended to reflect conservative and liberal social outlooks) – using age, gender, location and interest targeting. 

The two groups were then shown one of four ads that had been specially created: two for increasing support for internet surveillance, and two for decreasing it. The effectiveness of the ads was tested by measuring agreement with the statement ‘with regards to internet privacy: if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.'

In each case, targeted ads shifted opinion much more effectively.

Quoted in a story in the Guardian, Chris Sumner, research director and co-founder of the Online Privacy Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, said: “Before the referendum results, the concern we had was that people’s biases were being manipulated, either intentionally or unintentionally.

“Now we’ve seen this [research], I’m as concerned as I was before.

“It’s not a surprise, it’s what we expected to see. People on one side, whichever side happens to be winning at the time, are going to say ‘no, it’s not a problem’, while people who have just lost are going to see it as a big problem.”