Here's how Russian manipulators were able to target Facebook users
Here's how Russian manipulators were able to target Facebook usersCLOSE
The Russian ads, released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, offer the public the first in-depth look at the attempts to divide the U.S. ahead of the 2016 election.
SAN FRANCISCO â" Facebook users are getting another reminder of how the personal information they've shared with friends on the social network can be used by advertisers â" including, last year, by Russian political operatives.
Congress on Thursday released thousands of ads it says Russia's Internet Research Agency placed on Facebook, meant to sow discord among the American public. The unprecedented ad releases bring to the forefront questions Facebook's 2.2 billion monthly users may have a bout computer algorithms that underwrite what ad gets shown to which user: Why am I shown one ad and not another? How specific does Facebook get when it lets advertisers decide who they want their ads to be sent to?
The largely automated ad system has turned the 14-year-old Facebook into one of the world's most valuable companies by allowing millions of businesses, from small entrepreneurs to large chains, to show specific ads to finely sliced groups of users.
How do Facebook ads target users?
In the days when print, radio and television were the only games in town, advertisers selected the publication or TV show they wanted to advertise in and perhaps the specific section or program. 'Happy Days' had a different demographic from 'Columbo,' for example. For a national publication or show they might be able to specify a certain area of the country, but that was about the extent of it.
Ads on Facebook are several orders of magnitude more specific. The company constantly collects information about its users, including age, gender, education and income level, job title, relationship status, hobbies, political leanings, favorite TV shows and movies, what kind of car they drive and what kinds of products they buy. In addition, Facebook tracks the pages users like, the ads they click on and the sites they browse.
Facebook then allows advertisers to specify to whom to show specific ads based on those classifications. Though since news of the Russian political ads broke, Facebook has made changes to its ad system to make the system more transparent and less easy to game, including significantly cutting the criteria advertisers can use in targeting users and removing nearly one-third of the terms previously available.
More: Thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russians to fool U.S. voters released by Congress
The Russia ads show how very specific these categories were. An example is a n ad from Aug. 22, 2016 that clearly targeted blacks and Hispanics.
It read, "African-Americans have to choose between old b*tch Hillary Clinton and rich bastard Donald Trump. This is like to choose between the devil and the deep see. Still, you can not only survive in the deep see called Trump but also to catch a fish to feed your family there. But there's no way to have a good deal with the devil called Hillary Clinton."
This ad was sent to users Facebook identified as Hispanics, Asian Americans and African-Americans, as well as people whose interests included the National Museum of American HIstory, African-American poet Maya Angelou, African-American political activist and prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, progressive news site The Raw Story and progressive magazine Mother Jones.
How much does this cost?
The more popular an ad is, the less the organization placing it pays. Thatâs because Facebook is always trying to balance making money from ads with showing people what it thinks they will want, on the theory that if it shows them a lot of content they donât like, they'll leave.
In the aggregate, the price of an ad depends on how much demand there is in the system, how many advertisers are trying to reach people with the specific requested profile (new moms who live in the Pacific Northwest, say) and even what time of day it is, said Logan Young, co-founder at BlitzMetrics, a digital marketing company that focuses on Facebook ads.
Facebook uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to make all these determinations on the fly, looking at what the specific user has done in the past and also what people who fit the same profile of interests have done when they've seen the ad, or a similar ad.
As users scroll through their Facebook News Feeds, the system is constantly running instant, computer-controlled auctions in the background, deciding what ads to show them and how much to charge for those ads.
How do ad sellers know which ads work best?
Itâs become pretty standard for organizations placing ads on Facebook to create multiple variations of their ad and then test them to see which generates the most viewer engagement. Ads can be sent out for as little as $1 a day, so itâs simple to test multiple ads, see which one resonates the best and then use it in a campaign.
Not all work. For example, among the Russian ads was one that featured a coloring book image of Sen. Bernie Sanders and was aimed at members of the gay and lesbian community. It was seen by only 848 people and got just 54 clicks.
The way Facebooks algorithms work, the content that does best is often that which elicits some sort of strong reaction, either negative or positive, which encourages people to either âlikeâ or forward it along.
In the case of the Russia ads, it looks as if this type of testing might have been going on. According to testimony by Facebook 's general counsel Colin Stretch, less than $3 was spent on 50% of the ads. That could mean that the Russians created multiple ads, tested them in small batches and decided at least 50% weren't worth placing broadly.
Can I change what ads I see?
Facebook users have the power to influence the ads they see not only by how they interact with ads in their News Feed, but also by changing their ad settings. To do that, go to your Facebook Profile, then click on the Settings link. From there, look for the word Ads and click to see and set your "Ad Preferences."
Facebook is also in the process of changing some of its ad procedures to guard against repeats of the Russian ad issue. It is currently testing a plan that will allow people to see all the ads an advertiser is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. For political and issue ads, Facebook plans to verify the advertiser is who they say they are and require they disclose who paid for the ad.Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2rAWG1YSource: Google News