Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump spent a historic $217 million advertising on the Facebook and Instagram social media platforms during the 2020 general election. This report provides analyses by the Illuminating 2020 project for how both campaigns used Facebook and Instagram advertising in the general election campaign, including targeting and messaging.
In anticipation of a contentious presidential election, Facebook announced in September 2020 that it would make two changes to its treatment of ads about “social issues, elections or politics” in the US. This post provides an overview of these changes.
This report summarizes the challenges and concerns that the Illuminating project’s team encountered when using Facebook’s Ad Library to conduct research on the 2020 U.S. presidential election. We provide examples of each problem and explain why hindering the transparency of the online campaigning ecosystem poses a threat to campaign advertising research by academics and journalists. Our report concludes with recommendations that would help make Facebook’s Ad Library more accessible and transparent to journalists, researchers, and the general public.