Are microtargeted campaign messages more negative and diverse? An analysis of Facebook Ads in European election campaigns

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Abstract

© 2021, The Author(s).Concerns about the use of online political microtargeting (OPM) by campaigners have arisen since the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit the international political arena. In addition to providing conceptual clarity on OPM and explore the use of such techniques in Europe, this paper seeks to empirically disentangle the differing behaviours of campaigners when they message citizens through microtargeted rather than non-targeted campaigning. More precisely, I hypothesise that campaigners use negative campaigning and are more diverse in terms of topics when they use OPM. To investigate whether these expectations hold true, I use text-as-data techniques to analyse an original dataset of 4,091 political Facebook Ads during the last national elections in Austria, Italy, Germany and Sweden. Results show that while microtargeted ads might indeed be more thematically diverse, there does not seem to be a significant difference to non-microtargeted ads in terms of negativity. In conclusion, I discuss the implications of these findings for microtargeted campaigns and how future research could be conducted.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Political Science
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

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