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Title: Ad Delivery Algorithms: The Hidden Arbiters of Political Messaging
Political campaigns are increasingly turning to targeted advertising platforms to inform and mobilize potential voters. The appeal of these platforms stems from their promise to empower advertisers to select (or "target") users who see their messages with great precision, including through inferences about those users' interests and political affiliations. However, prior work has shown that the targeting may not work as intended, as platforms' ad delivery algorithms play a crucial role in selecting which subgroups of the targeted users see the ads. In particular, the platforms can selectively deliver ads to subgroups within the target audiences selected by advertisers in ways that can lead to demographic skews along race and gender lines, and do so without the advertiser's knowledge. In this work we demonstrate that ad delivery algorithms used by Facebook, the most advanced targeted advertising platform, shape the political ad delivery in ways that may not be beneficial to the political campaigns and to societal discourse. In particular, the ad delivery algorithms lead to political messages on Facebook being shown predominantly to people who Facebook thinks already agree with the ad campaign's message even if the political advertiser targets an ideologically diverse audience. Furthermore, an advertiser determined to reach ideologically non-aligned users is non-transparently charged a high premium compared to their more aligned competitor, a difference from traditional broadcast media. Our results demonstrate that Facebook exercises control over who sees which political messages beyond the control of those who pay for them or those who are exposed to them. Taken together, our findings suggest that the political discourse's increased reliance on profit-optimized, non-transparent algorithmic systems comes at a cost of diversity of political views that voters are exposed to. Thus, the work raises important questions of fairness and accountability desiderata for ad delivery algorithms applied to political ads.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1943584 1916153 1956435 1916020
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the 14th ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining
Page Range / eLocation ID:
13 to 21
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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