Project DATA developed a tool, EScope, for self-analysis of campaign exposure
A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Princeton University are helping voters understand their own experience of the 2016 elections.
The universities have teamed up for Project DATA (Digital Ad Tracking & Analysis) to enable voters to share the political ads, emails, and direct mails they receive during the elections, and therefore help society understand how campaigns target voters. The project investigates the practice of microtargeting, where it is believed political parties amass detailed profiles on people from sources such as voter records and customize targeted appeals to individual voters.
Microtargeting raises serious democratic concerns while its practice is still largely unknown. A husband and wife in the same household might be receiving different information. Politicians may be saying different things to different people, increasing the potential for misinformation. Perhaps, of greatest concern is information inequality – some people may find themselves simply not receiving any information at all, while others are bombarded with detailed political information.
“We simply do not have a good understanding of this practice, and how it would affect our democracy. With the help of public spirited citizens we hope to work together to better understand the issue, have an open discussion on its implications for our lives and empower voters,” said Young Mie Kim, who leads the project. Kim is the Microsoft Visiting Professor at Princeton University and an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
People are already largely familiar with targeted product ads online – how an ad pops up in your browser for the same product viewed a couple of days ago. It is believed that political microtargeting works in a similar way, but only by looking at actual ads that people receive can the process be better understood.
The project requires the input from a large number of people willing to “donate” their ads, emails, and direct mails to this public project. People can find out more about the study, and sign up to be a Data Donor by visiting the project website www.eyeonelections.com. Through a secure area of the website, participants will be able to see what ads they are exposed to as they browse, and how their ads compare to others.
The project is a winner of the 2015 Knight News Challenge on Elections, and was awarded a Prototype grant. A scale-up version of this project is also one of the 10 innovative research projects that received UW2020 grants, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Vice Chancellor’s new initiative for innovative research. Generous funding also came from the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.
To participate in the study and become a DATA Donor, visit: www.eyeonelections.com
For more information, contact Professor Young Mie Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or Project Administrator, Ceri Hughes at email@example.com.