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As we get closer to the election, we're seeing more and more political ads everywhere. Today we're talking about how to apply all of those research skills to all the ads in your feed.

- The Federal Election Commission
- Facebook Ad Library
- SnapChat political ad library
- ProPublica's ad tracker

SOURCES (in the order they appeared):
- Facebook Weighs Steps to Curb Narrowly Targeted Political Ads
- FEC on Advertising & disclaimers
- FEC on internet activity conducted by federal political committees
- Facebook's advertising policies
- TikTok's ad policy
- Twitter's political content policy
- Don't Listen to Anyone Who Says You Can Vote by Text Message
- OpenSecrets Summary data for Hillary Clinton
- No, you can’t text your vote. But these fake ads tell Clinton supporters to do just that.
- No, You Can’t Vote Via Text or Tweet
- Don’t Believe Those Memes About Texting to Vote for Hillary From Home


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MediaWise is a nonprofit, nonpartisan project of the Poynter Institute and supported by Facebook.

Before we get into today's video, I want to tell you that today's video is brought to you this product I've really been loving called democracy. It's completely changed my life. I feel super empowered and I want to share it with all of you guys, too, so if you use the coupon code, "Evelyn," you can get your first month of being an informed voter absolutely free.

Okay, #notspon, but we see ads in our social media feeds all the time, right? And they're really good at getting our attention. I mean, anytime I see an Instagram ad that's giving me mid-century, modern coffee table, that's giving me Monstera leaves, that's giving me the energy of a color-coordinated bullet journal, they can just take my money.

Political campaigns want to reach you on social media for the same reasons that brands do because you're always on the internet. Don't lie. You know you are. You've seen that screen time report.

And being in the same place you look for news or talk to your friends about issues that matter to you is super valuable. That's why advertisers spent 1.4 billion dollars on digital, political ads during the 2016 election cycle. With all those ads being mixed in with your everyday internet life, it's important to figure out how to actually take all that information in.  I'm Evelyn from the Internets. This is the MediaWise Voter Guide and today we are talking about how to really watch a political ad.

 (intro music) (1:24)

Okay, so you know how every influencer isn't always the most upfront about who paid them to talk about those gummy vitamins and how much? Well, the same thing has happened with political ads on social media. Now, the Federal Election Commission, which is an independent government agency that makes and enforces the rules about how campaigns can raise and spend money does require that political ads tell you who paid for the ad.

 TV/Newspaper Political Ad Disclosure (1:54)

On print and newspaper ads the campaign or Political Action Committee, also known as a PAC, will print their name in a little box at the bottom of the ad.  On TV, a disclosure is that part at the end of every ad that sounds like, "My name is Evelyn from the Internets and I approve this message." 

 Social Media Political Ad Disclosure (2:12)

But most of the FEC's rules got made before social media ads were even a thing. So as of right now, they aren't super specific about social media and handle questions on a case-by-case basis.  All political ads should include disclaimers, but there are still bills in Congress hashing out exactly what that looks like and how social media platforms share that responsibility in a constantly changing digital landscape. So it's still a little fuzzy.

In the 2016 election, some advertisers took advantage of that fuzziness to place ads that spread misinformation.

That's why it's super important to be able to spot a political ad online, and consider who paid for it, and why they wanted to get it in front of you.

While Congress and the FEC work out how exactly they want to require advertisers and social media platforms to disclose political ad spending, platforms have made some changes to make their political ads on their platforms more transparent, and give you more tools to help you be extra vigilant.

 5 W's (3:13)

When you see a political ad on social media, you can go back to those 5 "W's" from elementary school or from our research episode: who, what, where, when, and why.

Who is saying this? What is their proof and what are other people saying? Where was this published? When was this published? And why was this published?

You don't always have to find some deep answer for all 5 questions. Like if you're asking, "Where was this published," about a twitter post, there may be nothing more to it than that. But these questions are a good jumping off point for understanding what you're looking at.

 Indentifying Who (3:47)

Today we're mostly going to focus on who and what. So, first things first, "Who is behind the information in political ads on social media?" Let's take a look platform by platform at how you can find out who is responsible for that ad in your feed, starting with my personal favorite, Instagram.

 Instagram Ads (4:05)

You can spot an Instagram ad by spotting the word, "Sponsored," in the top right and the call to action below the photo in the main feed or swipe up if you're in stories. You can also click the three dots in the top right corner of the ad to get all the info about where the advertiser is, who they're targeting, and how much they're spending.

 Facebook Ads (4:25)

Now, moving to Facebook, where you should be just as careful about looking at ads as you are as you are about looking at the conspiracy memes that your one weird auntie posts.

Facebook ads also say, "Sponsored," at the top and to read more about who bought the ad, how much they're spending, and who they want to get in front of, you can click on the little "i" in the circle that appears on each ad.

Facebook also keeps a searchable library of all the political ads on the platform if you want to browse around and see what other ads that advertiser is running.

 Snapchat Ads (4:54)

Snapchat keeps a library of all their political ads that you can download and look around in. This is a great way to test your new skills and get a sense of all the audiences campaigns are targeting and what different kinds of messages their sending to each of those demographics.Like how is their messaging different when they talk to older voters versus younger ones.

 Tik Tok - No Political Ads (5:15)

Speaking of younger voters, you're safe from political ads on Tik Tok for now. The platform says it doesn't allow any political advertising. And I just hope that also means they don't allow cringey videos of politicians trying to hit the Woah.

 Twitter Ads (5:28)

Twitter also made changes to ban political ads. Candidates, political parties, PACs, and even some issued-based advocacy organizations aren't allowed to run ads on their platform. But how exactly they define the political ad is still a kind of work in progress.

So when you see the words, "Sponsored," under a tweet, take a moment to click over to the profile that tweeted it. You can look for a blue check mark, read their other tweets, look at their bio, even the ratio of profiles they follow to followers, to get a sense whether the account is legit.

Then once you've figured out who's behind the ad, open up a few more tabs to look for more evidence about who they are and what they want their ad to accomplish.

 What (6:09)

It's a good practice to get into, instead of taking in information via long, endless scrolls down websites, articles, or social media feeds, you pause as you read to open up new tabs with other sources of information like news articles, fact checking websites, and those digital ad libraries we just talked about.

Then you compare across those sources of information as you read. This where you're getting into a what question. What are other sources saying? No single source of information you check is going to be entirely neutral and unbiased because the people who make them aren't either. But if you compare lots of sources, they'll help you build a bigger, more complete picture.

So let's say we knew about all these steps in 2016. When sketchy advertisers ran ads near election day telling voters that they could cast their ballot for then candidate Hillary Clinton by sending a text.

Now, as much fun as it would be to vote via a string of bald eagle emojis, we all know it's not that simple. So how would you read this ad? First, you look at who is behind this information? The bottom of the ad said, "Paid for by Hillary for President 2016."

So you could click those three dots for more information and see if the name of the advertiser matched up. You could also go directly to the Snapchat or Facebook ad library or an independent ad library like Pro Publica's ad tracker and search for the ads run by Hillary's verified accounts to see if any of the ads matched.

If they don't, that's your first sign that something's off here.  Then you ask an all important what question. What's the evidence? Since you already have Hillary's Facebook page open from step 1, you can look around and see that when she's asked people to text for voting info, her campaign used the number 47246, not 59925, the number in the ad.

You could use a rigorously researched fact-checking website, like Politifact, to see if they've covered claims about voting from your phone. You could also visit sites that compile public campaign finance data.

The FEC's own website,, is a good one, but I also like, run by the non-partisan research group at the Center for Responsive Politics. There, you could search the organization named in the ad, "Hillary for President 2016," and read about which donors and industries they got their money from and where they spent it.

Or, in this case, you could learn that Hillary Clinton's real campaign committee was called, "Hillary for America," and she was also supported by 8 other PACs, but none of them went by the name on this ad.

Sidenote: these websites are also great tools to lookup the PACs that often run these kinds of ads and figure out which candidates, donors, and even which industries they're connected to.  Like if you see an ad telling you to vote, "No," on a ballot initiative about, I don't know, free government-sponsored ice cream, it would help to know if the ad was paid for by private ice cream manufacturers. We really got to get big ice cream's interests out of our democracy.

Once you've looked at the evidence ask yourself: what are other sources saying? We looked at a few sources to find our evidence about this claim, but hey, if there's a brand new way to vote, it would be pretty big news, right?

We could expect that media outlets across the political spectrum would talk about this. But if you search everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post and honestly, those are just the "W's," there's no coverage about a ground breaking new voting law.

There are, on the other hand, lots and lots and lots of articles about a social media ad voter suppression scam. Whew, aren't you glad we opened up all those tabs before a fake campaign advertiser left your vote on red(?~9:58).

This process may seem like a lot at first, but I promise you will get really good at opening up a lot of tabs to check up on what you're seeing with a little bit of patience. Go ahead and practice asking these questions about any ad you come across. I'm looking at you, Kylie Jenner. I know you do not use that same drug store face scrub that I do. It's a lie.

Look, advertisers spend a lot of money trying to influence what you buy, how you dress, and yes, who you vote for. So at least make them work a little harder for that influence. You're worth it. Using the transparency tools within each platform is a good first step, but if you combine that with a little bit of basic research to check the claims in the ad against other sources, it will help you read between the lines about what the ad is really trying to say.

 Closing (10:45)

The MediaWise Voter Project, MVP for short, is led by the Pointer Institute. That's a journalism teaching non-profit. Complexly, the creator of this video, is a partner on MVP. The MediaWise Voter Project is supported by Facebook.