Want to see the political ads targeting people who are not us?

ProPublica has set up a data base through which you can read political advertising on Facebook, advertising not directed to you and me in our secure blue states, but to your, oh, say, Trump-voting cousins.

ProPublica allows you to ID yourself as coming from Iowa, for example, and you can see what sort of stuff (including, presumably, Russian kompromat) is being directed toward voters there.

To me, this is a godsend, because for several years I’ve been agonizing over what kind of ads were targeting and overwhelming voters in Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana — ads that, I suspect, had much to do at the end of the campaign with downing the candidacies of Russ Feingold, Jason Kander and Evan Bayh.

Now I can see them for myself. And I’m going to.

Let’s find out what the Russians are doing to target Claire McCaskill. They couldn’t get into her campaign material so I bet they’re slamming her in Facebook ads.

Here’s the whole ProPublica post, with the links:

Hey there,

I’m Jeremy Merrill, and I don’t get very many political ads in my Facebook feed. This is funny because I’m the guy who covers political advertising on Facebook for ProPublica.

Maybe it’s because in live in Georgia, which isn’t really a swing state. (“Next election!”, the Democrats say… every time.) Maybe it’s because I don’t like the pages of a lot of politicians on Facebook. Maybe it’s because I’m in my twenties — some campaigns direct more of their ads seeking donations to older voters, folks who they think are more likely to donate money.

But I do see a lot of Facebook political ads — thanks to ProPublica readers who have installed our Facebook Political Ad Collector project browser add-on.

So, what does this thing do? With our readers’ help through the browser extension, we are trying to collect as many political ads as we can on Facebook.

Even if you do see a lot of political ads on Facebook, you definitely don’t see all of them. Some of them are “microtargeted” to people in a different location, older or younger than you, of a different gender or whose Facebook profiles betray different political leanings from yours.

We created a searchable database and designed it so you can step into someone else’s shoes and see the ads that they might see on Facebook. You can pick a different age, a different city or state than your own, or even select a different gender and see how Facebook looks for someone whose profile differs from your own.

We’ve collected almost 53,000 political ads from more than 11,000 users.

But we still need to see more ads and that means more users. Facebook launched its own database, but it doesn’t include the “targeting” information we use to determine if an advertiser wanted to show their ad to only, say, Republican men over 45 or a millennial Democrat.

Speaking of Republicans and Democrats, we’d like a diverse political spectrum of users — people from both red states and blue states. Looking at the data right now, it appears many of the users are Democrats or are in blue states. We’d like to balance that out. So we really need more Republicans and residents of red states to use our add-on. If that sounds like you or a friend of yours who might be amenable (and who uses Facebook on their computer, not just on their phone), consider downloading the browser extension or asking them to join the project, too. Important privacy note: The extension doesn’t collect any personal information about its users; we just collect the ads you see, automatically. We don’t see any of your or your friends’ posts. Learn more here.

We don’t know exactly how far certain countries will go to meddle in the midterms via Facebook. But we have already seen campaigns run afoul of Federal Election Commission rules, we’ve seen scammers exploit Facebook’s paid promotion policies, and as we learned this week, Russian meddlers tried to hack the computers of Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. I’m not going to see those ads on my own feed… so, won’t you help us out?

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