Geotargeted Facebook Ads Used By Senator To Target The Dept. Of Interior

from the sniper-lobbying dept

By now, most people are aware that Facebook advertisements can be quite targeted in nature, whether by age, gender, or location. Most people also are aware of the level of spending by politicians and government for Facebook ads to get their messages out to their targeted audience. But just how targeted can Facebook ads be in the service of politicians? Well, for that we turn to the story of Lisa Murkowski, Senator from Alaska, and her attempt to get a road built between two towns in her state.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has been trying for years to convince the Interior Department to allow Alaska to build a 11-mile road through a wildlife refuge to make two remote towns in the state more easily accessible. But the Interior Department has balked, citing environmental concerns; the area is a habitat for migratory birds. In order to convince Department officials to change their minds, Murkowski recently targeted them—and only them—with a video ad on Facebook.
How did she do this? Well, she produced a video advertisement and bought ads on Facebook that were set to run specifically during lunchtime hours and geo-targeted 1849 C Street, N.W. in Washington D.C.. That address is the building for the Interior Department. That's fairly precise targeting, I think, which is why it's actually quite impressive that the advertisement appeared in the newsfeeds seven-thousand times as it ran and the video had been clicked on well over two-thousand times. But exactly how precise was the geo-location portion of this advertisement?
Well, it depends on how big the building is. A spokesperson from Facebook directed me to a help page explaining how to target people in a specific location (which it can determine from GPS coordinates off their smartphone or, less reliably, from the IP address of their computer). The most granular option is targeting a location with a radius of one kilometer, or a little over half a mile.

So if you were targeting a workplace with a one-mile long campus, like Facebook itself, you could be guaranteed to show an ad only to people in its buildings. But the Department of Interior takes up just one city block. So when Murkowski targeted the Interior Department’s address, she was actually targeting not just that building, but all the people and buildings in a half-mile radius.
Which probably led to some very confused people in nearby buildings wondering what the hell this video about a road in Alaska was doing in their newsfeed. This does come off as perhaps a tad unseemly, but I view this kind of targeted advertising less negatively than I do traditional lobbying efforts. And it's not exactly clear whether all of those views had any real effect on the policy-makers, as the Interior Department still opposes the building of the road as of the date of this writing.

Still, it's a brave new world out there for anyone looking to influence policy-makers.

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Filed Under: department of the interior, geographic targeting, lisa murkowski, social media, targeted ads
Companies: facebook


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2016 @ 12:57pm

    We may not need reminding, but not all propaganda is this obvious. I can't decide which one is more worrisome.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2016 @ 1:55pm

    .onion?

    What does Facebook do for people using their Tor service? Can ads be targeted specifically at those users, or at other anonymous groups?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2016 @ 2:38pm

    Another benefit...

    If all the people in the surrounding buildings are scratching their heads and talking about this video on their lunch break, the odds are that someone from the Dept. of the Interior is hanging out in the same coffee shop they are -- and has knowledge of exactly what it's about.

    Seems like that would actually be more effective than just targeting the building itself.

    And targeted speech is still free speech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Per Dutton (profile), 4 May 2016 @ 3:03pm

    Bodes well for rural targeting....

    If it's based on a radius of 1km, can Facebook easily price for me the cost of buying all advertising in a scenic rural area for my message of "benevolent dictatorship" when I retire there in the future? I want my fiefdom to be ready...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ray Parker, II, 5 May 2016 @ 2:55am

    This is a first for me with Techdirt:

    I don't see what point the author is trying to make. Is it that Facebook targeting can be so granular and specific? If so, ok, I'm with you.

    Or is it a Senator used such targeted ads? Unless the ad money came from some shady source my response is- so what? She's a Senator, getting things done for her constituents is her job.

    Or is it the road through the preserve? I know a road in through a wildlife refuge isn't ideal, but those towns in Alaska are really remote. Depending on what services are there, it could mean life or death of resident, perhaps even a kid.

    Dunno. Maybe I've not had enough coffee this morning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Ray Parker, II, 5 May 2016 @ 2:58am

      Re: This is a first for me with Techdirt:

      Ok, it was just my lame brain being low on caffeine. Another read through made perfect sense- magic of the coffee beans.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 5 May 2016 @ 5:49am

    Targeting a demographic of one

    Two years ago, someone did something similar for a prank. He used Facebook targeted ads to target his roommate -- for a hilarious prank that also demonstrates how creepily specific the targeting can be.

    http://ghostinfluence.com/the-ultimate-retaliation-pranking-my-roommate-with-targeted-facebook-ad s/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 5 May 2016 @ 8:13am

    Ooooh, so you can target politicians like that. There are many interesting videos they should be seeing, no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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