Ad tagged Clive Palmer billboard
Credit: Daniel Angus

The Australian Ad Observatory: Update on election advertising on Facebook

Authors Daniel Angus and Axel Bruns
Date 20 May 2022

As the church and school hall floors are being swept, the corflutes and bunting ready, and several tonnes of democracy sausages ordered and ready for the main event this Saturday, ADM+S researchers Professor Daniel Angus and Professor Axel Bruns provide an update on election-related advertising on Facebook through the Australian Ad Observatory project.

We have been experimenting this election with our new Australian Ad Observatory, developed through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society.  With support from our partners at the ABC we have enlisted a group of citizen scientists who have kindly downloaded a plugin that allows them to anonymously donate ads they encounter while browsing Facebook. We have been keeping careful watch to identify any political or issue advertising that isn’t properly authorised and that may be trying to sneak through undetected.

Thankfully we have not located any significant or widespread ‘dark ad’ campaigns throughout this election. With the caveat that we can only examine ads from the 1,700 citizen scientists who have installed the ad plugin, and that we can’t see mobile-only ads, it seems Australian Facebook’s political ad environment is mostly running as designed.

This is not to say that there aren’t significant issues regarding false and misleading claims being made in advertising, or that the transparency provided by the platforms is adequate (far from it), but at least for now the political ads we have seen can all be traced back to an authorised source.

A significant part of the work in the Ad Observatory has been to develop machine vision techniques to detect political logos and other signifiers that may help us locate unauthorised ads. It was great therefore to see that colleagues at The Guardian have also been experimenting with the use of machine vision to detect political messaging techniques, such as the use of novelty cheques, cute furry animals, and hi-vis workwear. With the continued fragmentation of our media landscape, these new techniques all play an important role in helping us understand the pulse of the political campaign and hold our politicians to account.

For a further look at campaigning on social media during the election including advertising spend and social media engagement of candidates on Facebook and Twitter visit the Digital Media Research Centre, QUT 2022 Australian Federal Election: Update 5.


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