Liberal campaigns on top in Facebook ad spending so far, according to new tool

CANADA — To date, the individual campaigns of Liberal candidates and the Liberal Party itself are spending more on Facebook advertising than their rivals during this federal election,  according to a new online tool launched by New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. Third-party advertisers, however, account for over 60 percent of the ad spend on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform this election.

The website launched today by computer scientists at the school has been analyzing all Canadian Facebook political advertising in the leadup to the October 21 election, starting the day before the writ dropped on Sept. 11. The site allows users to explore the data and break down the advertising spend based on party, target demographic, region, and other factors.

The combined total dollars spent on Facebook by the individual Grit candidates ($175,936) plus the national Liberal campaign ($5,479) is $181,415, or just over 46 percent of all federal election dollars dropped on the most-popular social media platform, including that by third-party advertisers, according to the American data crunchers. Meanwhile, the Conservatives clock in at $126,305 spent on Facebook — $71,022 by the individual candidates plus $55,283 at the party level — for 32.43 percent of the election dollars invested in the platform.

The data also shows the Facebook ad spend by the NDP ($35,758 by candidates, $9,380 by the party, or 11.51 percent) Greens ($17,152 by candidates, $1,093 by the party, or 4.66 percent) and the Bloc Quebecois (1.82 percent).

Among third-party entities, Ontario Proud tops the list at $24,090, followed by Ville de Montreal ($18,388) and Ontario Education ($16,496) and a long list of others. All told, third-party players have spent $594,088 spreading their election messages on Facebook to date.

Among individual candidates Alexandre Boulerice of the NDP is highest and closest to hitting five figures. His campaign has invested $9,079 on Facebook advertising up until Oct. 1.

The data was compiled using cutting-edge machine learning and data scraping tools, and expands on the team’s 2018 political advertising analysis, called the Online Transparency Project, which has already reviewed more than 1 million ads identified by Google, Twitter, and Facebook to determine how much political organizations were spending to target U.S. voters.

“While the largest advertising platforms have made significant strides to allow the public to access information on political advertisements, much of the data is difficult to mine and analyze,” said Damon McCoy, assistant professor of computer science and engineering. “We hope our website will help the media better understand political ad spend and targeting, and we plan to continue to build this platform with data from additional countries and platforms.”

The project was funded by the Digital Ecosystem Research Challenge, a collaborative effort between Elizabeth Dubois, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and a Centre for Law, Technology and Society at the University of Ottawa (français), and Taylor Owen, an associate professor in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. The Digital Ecosystem Research Challenge supports academic research into the impacts and uses of digital media during the 2019 Federal Election in Canada.

Facebook had revenues of $55.8 billion in 2018.

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