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Digitally shaping the election

Written By: - Date published: 10:49 am, July 30th, 2017 - 22 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, democracy under attack, interweb, spin, Spying - Tags: , , , ,

An interesting piece on RNZ this morning, on an issue that we should all be watching out for:

Your vote – caught in the web

Even a casual observer will probably have noticed the adverts that appear in your social media feeds and internet browsers have become increasingly personal over the last couple of years or so. … While this so-called “microtargetting” of advertising could be a welcome convenience for some, there is a disturbing element of intrusion.

Extreme examples include the voter suppression and attack ads seen in Britain’s Brexit referendum, its recent snap election, and in the US presidential election that against most expectations installed Donald Trump in the White House.

A common factor in all three of those campaigns was the winners’ use of a data analytics consultancy called Cambridge Analytica. The company boasts of its ability to harvest voter information on a large scale, much of it from social media platforms including Facebook, and to process it to construct psychological profiles. Those profiles reveal voters’ emotional triggers, which are in turn exploited in adverts served back to them, often through their social media news feeds.

While Cambridge Analytica has made recent overtures to Australian politicians, it doesn’t appear to be working with any New Zealand political parties at present.

Like it or not, this technology is going to influence which adverts and social media posts from political parties the punters will see during this year’s election campaign in New Zealand.

New Zealand political parties will be using a combination of their own data sources and analytics, and those offered by the likes of Facebook and Google, to better target ads and posts in the next two months.

Read on for comment from Labour and National, and plenty more.

The use of online voter profiling and (micro)advertisement targeting is becoming a huge factor in elections, with Cambridge Analytica front and center:
Did Cambridge Analytica influence the Brexit vote and the US election?
The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked
How Social Media and Big Data Shaped the Brexit Campaign Strategy
The Data That Turned the World Upside Down
Cambridge Analytica: Psychological manipulation for Brexit and Trump?
We’ve noted these tactics here on The Standard before:
Facebook, fake news and Donald Trump’s election
Dirty Politics 2017 style

It will be interesting to look out for any signs of such methods here in the future. The RNZ piece above closes:

The Goat Farm’s Vaughn Davis also suggested its up to voters themselves to curb the power of Facebook and other online platforms and their clients to sway elections.

“The way forward is for us as citizens of the internet, and that’s what we all are, to educate ourselves and our families that what we’re seeing through that Facebook newsfeed is curated – whether it’s by human or computer – and to understand the difference between an ad and an organic story from your friends and sometimes it’s hard to tell.

“Long term maybe this is something we need to look at as a society and say ‘well, if this is our view of the world and it’s being controlled by some publicly listed company in California, do we want some control or some transparency round that?’.”

22 comments on “Digitally shaping the election ”

  1. Carolyn_nth 1

    There’s been complaints on Twiiter, that TOP has been targetting GP voters on Facebook.

    From Giovanni Tiso:

    Brilliant. So when @top_nz told @NZMorningReport they weren’t targeting @NZGreens supporters on FB, they were lying.

    Read down the discussion on this.

    Basically, TOP were/are targeting people with an interest in Green politics, but Tiso says this includes large swathes of GP voters.

  2. The Real Matthew 2

    I’m not entirely convinced this method of advertising is overly effective.

    Does anyone notice which ads appear on their social media feeds? Do the masses make their voting decision based on a social media ad?

    Sure it’s a factor but my intuition is the effect is overstated.

    • LivinInTheBay 2.1

      I agree.

      If ads are personalised to that extent, National supporters would get right leaning adverts, and vice versa.

      Similarly, Left leaning voters in the main follow the likes of Labour and the Greens and most likely not National, NZF or Act. And vice versa.

      Which then means preaching via social media is preaching in an ‘echo chamber’ – especially true on Twitter. And there’s not a great deal of mileage to be made by talking to your own supporters. It’s the swing voters you need. And how do you get to them.

      • Sacha 2.1.1

        Parties who pay for ads on Facebook will target topics like the example mentioned which might overlap another party’s base and peel some away – like car ownership, valuing family, or some proxy for attitudes about migration.

      • miravox 2.1.2

        I think that reaching their own supporters has value in keeping the momentum up in a political campaign, but yeah, the real value is getting the data just right to reach the people just on the edge of similar political views and getting them get across the line.

        Hence TOP going for Green party voters with environmental posts popping up in their newsfeeds, and the right wing Trumpist/Brexiteers hunting out Labour supporters with anti-immigrant views. It’s these newsfeed ‘posts you might be interested in’ that are way better than ads for that, I think.

        As an aside, I’ve been getting a few Russian TV posts from Anonymous, clearly I’m for turning into a sympathiser. I found that pretty funny.

      • McFlock 2.1.3

        The vicar preaches to the converted to keep the cash rolling in and make sure the pews are full on Sundays.

        The vicar preaches to the lost in order to get them to maybe come to church once: a much more difficult task, but great if it works.

    • dukeofurl 2.2

      You are right and I think local political parties are very sceptical about it all. The main reason the US uses it is they are awash with political advertising money, much of it negative.

      What the parties want to to is get feedback from their messages to see if they are working. That enables them in the NZ context of not a lot of money, to make best use of it.
      The other side is the broad targetting, mothers get messages about schools, heath etc, older people maybe super, foreign affairs. Company owners get messages about taxes, economy etc.

      The main result from that is likely voters think : ‘hey this party sounds good to me’, thats if they hadnt made a choice or were leaning one way and just needed some confirmation.

    • Ads are manipulative. That’s their whole point for existence.

      Your intuition, and even mine, doesn’t count. The only thing that we should be taking note of is the research and how ads manipulate us.


      • The Real Matthew 2.3.1

        Consumers have become wise to advertising techniques as they have evolved. Everyone knows that the burger you see on your TV screen is unlikely to match the presentation of the burger at your local store.

        Likewise once upon a time when someone approached you in the street you stopped to talk/help them. However these days they’re likely to be a charity worker trying to extricate money from your pocket. People have responded by not stopping to talk and have become experts at “flipping off”.

        Regular social media users have an increased understanding that advertising put in front of them on social media is personalised. Whilst more applicable to the user it’s also a turn-off and as livininthebay points out is simply an echo chamber. It will simply re-enforce the voting decision.

        Elections are all about swing voters, not political tragics.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Consumers have become wise to advertising techniques as they have evolved.

          No they haven’t hence the video and other research that shows that advertising is still massively manipulative.

    • Bill 2.4

      Where I suspect it works really well is in getting target audiences for dog-whistle crap.

      So not so much about overtly appealing to people to vote for x, y or z party, but about blowing that whistle to maximum effect while minimising the scope for push-back.

  3. “Long term maybe this is something we need to look at as a society and say ‘well, if this is our view of the world and it’s being controlled by some publicly listed company in California, do we want some control or some transparency round that?’.”

    Yes, yes we do. In fact, we need that transparency and control.

    • The New Student 4.1

      +1 very much so. Lots of good Money wasted on these manipulative techniques and data harvesting

  4. Oh for the good old days when politicians just got out and did this :

    Though I guess its Winston Peters theme song in his bus at the moment…

    Willie Nelson – On the Road Again – YouTube
    Video for youtube music willie nelson on the road again▶ 2:35

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