Increasing Transparency Around US 2020 Elections Ads

By Sarah Clark Schiff, Product Manager

Update on May 23, 2022 at 6:00AM PT:

We’re expanding this ad transparency pilot from 2021 to include data from all social issue, electoral and political ads run since August 2020, as well as for all countries in which our ad authorizations and disclaimer tools are currently available. More information can be found in our Meta for Business blog. Researchers who have access to the 2021 pilot data set will automatically receive access to the new data set of targeting information on May 31, 2022. We’ll also share more details about how researchers who do not yet have access can apply.

Originally published on January 25, 2021 at 9:00AM PT:

Today we are announcing two efforts to increase transparency for ads about social issues, elections and politics run on Facebook and Instagram during the US 2020 elections. 

While our Ad Library provides industry-leading transparency for social issue, electoral and political ads, including the ad creative and information about an ad’s performance — such as range of spend, impressions and demographic information about who saw the ad — we have heard feedback, particularly from the academic community, that understanding how advertisers choose to target audiences is key to learning more about the impact of digital ads on specific events like elections. 

We are committed to providing more transparency, while also protecting people’s privacy. That’s why on February 1, researchers will have access, for the first time, to targeting information for more than 1.65 million social issue, electoral and political ads through the Facebook Open Research & Transparency (FORT) platform. We created this tool to enable academic researchers to study the impact of Facebook’s products on elections, and included measures to protect people’s privacy and keep the platform secure. This data package includes ads that ran during the three-month period prior to Election Day, from August 3 to November 3, 2020. (Updated on February 16, 2021 at 3:56PM PT to reflect accurate number of ads.)

By making the targeting criteria, such as location and interests, selected by advertisers running social issue, electoral or political ads available for analysis and reporting, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters on Facebook. We recognize that understanding the online political advertising landscape is key to protecting elections, and we know we can’t do it alone. We welcome the opportunity to partner with the academic community to further understanding of the impact of digital advertising on the US 2020 elections. In order to gain access to FORT, researchers need to apply here.

Also on February 1, the US 2020 Election Spend Tracker data currently available in the Ad Library will be moved to our Elections page, where the information will remain available for download. This offers researchers, academics and others a look into how much presidential, senate and house candidates spent on ads during 2020.

Screenshot of the US 2020 Presidential spending tracker

People who visit the Ad Library will continue to be able to compare aggregate ad spend for any set of Pages, including those representing future candidates or current elected officials, running social issue, electoral or political ads. Visualizations of spend comparisons will be available for set date ranges including: last day, last 7 days, last 30 days and last 90 days. Ads about social issues, elections or politics that run on Facebook and Instagram will continue to be archived and publicly available for seven years in both the Ad Library and Ad Library API.

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