Facebook’s Targeted Ad System Helps Companies Send Drastically Different Political Messages

Mark Zuckerberg Capitol Hill
Getty/Chip Somodevilla

According to a recent report, major companies such as Exxon and Comcast are using Facebook’s targeted ads to serve drastically different messages to users based on their political leanings. Energy giant ExxonMobil for example ran 18 ads aimed at leftists promoting environmental causes and 15 ads aimed at conservatives decrying environmental regulation.

The Markup reports in an article titled “How Facebook’s Ad System Lets Companies Talk Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths,” that major companies are using Facebook’s targeted advertising system to cater the ads they serve to users based on their political views.

The Markup gives the example of ads from ExxonMobil. According to the report, leftists on Facebook and given one view of the company, an oil giant dedicated to changing its ways and exploring “carbon capture” technology to put carbon back into the ground.

However, conservative users receive an advertisement decrying regulation and calling for support to prevent “energy growth” being slowed down by “unnecessary regulations.” The ad states: “The oil and gas industry is THE engine that powers America’s economy. Help us make sure unnecessary regulations don’t slow energy growth.”

According to the report, 18 Exxon ads on Facebook targeted political liberals and 15 targeted conservatives. Many of the ads had contradictory attitudes and messages toward issues such as climate change.

The ads and information about their targeting reportedly come from the Ad Observatory at NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy project. However, Exxon is not the only company targeting users based on their political leanings.

The Markup writes:

Much has been made of America’s seemingly growing political polarization, with some commentators blaming Facebook’s algorithmic push to encourage people to join groups that sometimes contain highly partisan, vitriolic content. But whatever the cause, experts say brands’ decisions to appeal to people because of their political leanings indicates that they’re using Facebook’s ad targeting system to take advantage of that polarization.

“As parties have become more sorted and distant from one another,” said Bridget Barrett, a Ph.D. student who researches political communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “political parties may become a market segment in their own right.”

Facebook didn’t respond to a question about Exxon’s use of its ad targeting tools.

Another Exxon ad targeted at liberal Facebook users said that the company helped to mass-produce a new N95 mask design and boasted about how “Modern energy can transform lives.” In comparison, conservative Facebook users were shown ads about how oil pipelines are essential infrastructure that keeps oil and gas-based energy affordable.

Read the full report at the Markup here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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