Monday, April 16, 2012

Campaigning in the Age of Facebook

An interesting NYTimes article on nanotargeting goes a long way to demonstrating just how hyperspecific campaigning has become. Did you know, for example, that ESPN viewers lean slightly Democrat, while ESPN2 Viewers lean slightly Republican? Probably not, because that sounds ridiculous. But such is the world we live in. (And, if I can get in a partisan dig for a second, 6 of the top 10 Democrat-leaning shows are news programs, whereas none of the top 10 Republican-leaning shows are. Then again, "House of Payne" and "The View" also crack the Democratic top 10, so I'm probably full of...well, you know).

My question is what this general trend does for campaigning. It seems to me like more targeted campaigns certainly increase polarization, as people's opinions are reinforced because the marketers already know eerily well who they are targeting. As well, it makes people more issue sensitive, isolating them from the general electorate. The obvious response is that people don't decide elections based on advertisements, which certainly has some truth in it. Yet I suspect advertiser's have at least some ability to subtly influence the public (it is, after all, their job). If advertiser's can appeal to me, I will get set in my ways. I, for one, have two ads on my Facebook: one for Planned Parenthood and one for Demi Lovato's new album. It seems, unfortunately, that the internet age knows me a little too well for comfort.


  1. You raise an interesting question about what this does for campaigning. I would guess that you're right in your supposition that internet ads do little to change voter opinion. Instead, I bet their authors use them to motivate voter turn out. The nanotargeting only aids this effort. If the advertiser's for planned parenthood think that you might agree with their position, they will target you with messages designed to provoke outrage that drives you to the ballot box. These ads are likely more about energy than persuasion.

  2. I agree with the assertion that nanotargeting will increase polarization by reinforcing people’s opinions based on preferences, and I suspect that it will continue to drive a deeper wedge in polarization with technological advances. Why put out a general ad when you can make a bunch of smaller ads to a more vulnerable electorate, especially when you can use a medium that is more applicable to said vulnerable electorate? As an increasing amount of people turn to the Internet to watch specific movies and TV shows, I believe that we will see more and more ads tailored very closely (eerily as Harry put it) to our interests.

    What I’m a little confused about in the article, however, is how these changes in spending may contribute to depolarization as Thomas Edsall claims. As Mike pointed out, voter turnout will likely increase with tailored ad campaigns because they motivate voters on issues that interest them. I feel that motivation techniques will more than likely involve negative campaigns since they seem to be more effective dollar for dollar. Perhaps I am way off base in my claims, but if this is the case, I fail to see how highly tailored negative campaigning will result in depolarization.

  3. I think this post raises an important question of what the prominence of social media will do for the future of political campaigns. We have seen from Obama in 2008, the success a candidate can have when he leverages the power of these social networks effectively. However, I think there is going to be a problem with how much access political campaigns will have to an individuals preferences and information. As we can all see from the evolution of Facebook advertisements, its troubling to see how much personal information advertisers now have in their databases. Should individual politicians be given access to the same volume of information? Its an important ethical question that must be answered in the coming years, because it will shape the future of political campaigning and marketing.

  4. The ultraspecific nature of ads has crossed my mind before. But I'd never put it in the context of political advertisements. The specificity with which advertisers break us down online is somewhat frightening. As far as polarization, I draw a parallel to the self-selection the public does with its TV news stations. More conservatives watch FOX and liberals watch MSNBC for example. Online, this is taken to an extreme, where specific websites draw individuals of a specific leaning. People go to websites that affirm their beliefs just as they do with TV. I suppose a criticism would be that political polarization on the Internet is limited. A website for cat-lovers or a Taylor Swift Tumblr may cross political lines.