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End the duopoly

How online ad targeting weaponizes political misinformation

Ad targeting is how Facebook, Google and other online giants won the internet. It’s also key to understanding why these companies are being held responsible for warping elections and undermining democracy.

The big picture: Critics and tech companies are increasingly considering whether limiting targeting of political ads might be one way out of the misinformation maze.

Under this approach, giant platforms would still allow campaigns and candidates to purchase political ads — but the companies would stop (either voluntarily or by law) selling messages aimed only at narrow segments of the electorate.

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How ad targeting works

Facebook and Google have somewhat different systems for targeting ads, but both allow advertisers to bid on narrowly defined demographic groups or keywords.

    • For instance, you can tell Facebook to show your message only to Southern men who don’t have a college degree and earn less than $75,000 — or ask for married suburban moms in three zip codes outside Indianapolis who own SUVs and play tennis.
    • Both platforms have some restrictions on what you can and can’t target based on local laws.

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