Shining some light on dark posts in Canada

Map showing targeted rural Ontario ad buy on Facebook

U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller charged 13 Russian operatives with “illegally using social media platforms to sow political discord,” according to the New York Times.

The Washington Post has detailed efforts of a Russian influence campaign that used targeted Facebook ads to “mimic and infiltrate U.S. political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another.” The campaign used so-called “dark posts” to buy ads that supported Donald Trump, and while disparaging Hilary Clinton.

These were ads that fell under the radar of the mainstream news.

Political advertising on Facebook is nothing new. Nor is the fact that the social media platform gives ad-buyers some very precise tools to target their ads.

On the internet, there is no such thing as a mass market. Ads can be strategically focused to reach certain audiences at a certain time, and go completely unnoticed by everyone else.

What is new this year is that Facebook is providing some insight into the range of ads are being placed.

Caroline Mulroney Ad
Example of targeted ad by the Caroline Mulroney campaign

It’s part of the social network’s attempts to address what happened during the 2016 Presidential election, where in addition to the Russian ads, the  Trump campaign also used targeted dark post ads in a voter-suppression campaign against Clinton supporters.

Facebook is currently working to provide greater insight into the types of advertising being bought on the platform. It wants to have a new tool launch in the United States in time for the November 2018 midterm elections. It is currently alpha testing an early version of the feature here in Canada.

According to Facebook:

people will be able to click “View Ads” on a Page and view ads a Page is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger — whether or not the person viewing is in the intended target audience for the ad.

I thought I’d check out the tool, and use it to track the ads being taken out by three of the four candidates running in the Ontario PC leadership race.

Click here to read my article on CBC.CA.

3 responses to “Shining some light on dark posts in Canada”

  1. Hey Mike, I read your CBC article and had a question about the Ford ads. In the article, you note two ads in particular:

    1.) “A strong north means a strong Ontario. Are you with me?”
    2.) “clean up the mess”

    Is this the FordNation page? Because the only ads that show up are the six concerning the carbon tax. There also isn’t an apparent way to identify what geographic area these ads target. I was wondering if know of a way to identify info specific to an ad’s geo-targeting.

    1. Facebook only posts ads that are currently running. The northern Ontario ones must have only been posted for a few days last week when I was researching the article. There’s no archive of old ads (yet) nor is there any breakdown of what geographic areas are targeted. We can only infer from the content of the ads.

      1. Sorry for the late reply, but I wanted to thank you for the additional info.

        Hopefully we see some sort of full archive soon–it would be incredibly interesting to see the strategic messaging in action with each campaign. I’d imagine we won’t be seeing where the ads are running any time soon, as it would cause a battle royal for advertisers, though I bet that would also be a sight to behold.

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