Apart from Google, Facebook and Twitter, what are other platforms doing about political ads?

Review of approach of a number of platforms (TikTok, SnapChat, Pintrest, LinkedIn, Spotify, Amazon and Reddit) to political advertising - including targeting more broadly and ads transparency (for users and researchers).

Key findings
  • Political advertising is defined slightly differently by each platform, with some making reference to issue ads.
  • All but two of these platforms DO NOT ALLOW political advertising. The approach of Pintrest, LinkedIn and Amazon is to include political advertising in the prohibited categories of advertising. Spotify has suspended political advertising until further notice. TikTok has a specific policy explaining why they do not allow it.
  • These prohibitions apply to the companies' services AROUND THE WORLD. Although not all platforms offer advertising services around the world e.g. Pintrest.
  • NONE of the platforms that do not allow political advertising, appear to provide any form of advertising transparency for research purposes, such as an ad library, archive or equivalent. For a user, it is equally frustrating, with no to limited information about why you are seeing an ad.
  • Political advertising IS ALLOWED on SnapChat. This advertising must include certain information about who has paid for it and comply with national laws and Snap's policies. Political ads are reviewed on case by case basis and there are limits on foreign ad spend. A reasonably high level of transparency is available to researchers via the Snap Political Ads Library which allows you to download a csv with ads from each of the last 3 years. The information includes various targeting criteria, including interests and demographics
  • Political advertising IS ALLOWED on Reddit but only at US Federal Level. This advertising must include information about who has paid for it and comply with national laws and Reddit's policies. Political ads are manually reviewed and require verification. A reasonable degree of transparency is provided on the dedicated Reddit channel where it lists political ad campaigns with information on advertisers, spend, reach and targeting.
  • ALL of these platforms, whether they allow what they define as political advertising or not, facilitate intricate targeting of ads based on demographics, interests and more - with varying degrees of transparency. They also all provide variations of custom and lookalike audiences.
Long Read

This review is based on information in the public domain, primarily that of the platforms themselves. It is not exhaustive and this field moves with speed - however, it aims to offer a snapshot of approaches and practices.

TikTok

TikTok is a short-form video app (owned by ByteDance) which allows advertising and sponsored content. Two thirds of TikTok’s over 113 million users (are reportedly aged 16-24) and it was the second most downloaded app in 2019, beaten only by WhatsApp’s 849 million). Like other tech platforms, ByteDance makes most of its money from advertising.

There are a number of ongoing investigations into TikTok, including a national security review by the US Government as well as by the UK data protection authority for handling of children's data. In February 2019, TikTok agreed to settle and pay the US Federal Trade Commission $5.7 million over allegations that the company illegally collected personal information from children.

There have also been numerous concerns raised in terms of content moderation and censorship.

Political Ads

In October 2019, TikTok announced its decision not to allow political ads on TikTok. This is based on their position that paid political ads is not something that fits the TikTok experience which they describe as light-hearted and irreverent.

They will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state or local level - including election-related ads, advocacy ads or issue ads.

Among the prohibited products or services listed in the Advertising Policy (i.e. what ads should not promote) is Political ads, defined as:

“Political ads- Ads must not reference, promote or oppose a candidate for public office, current or former political leader, political party, or political organization, or contain content regarding a local, state, or federal issue of public importance. Calls to action from non-profit organizations or government agencies may be allowed, if not driven by partisan political motives.”

TikTok’s Advertising Policy notes that countries and regions may have different prohibited products and services and has a list per country. However, political ads appears to apply equally around the world.

Ad Targeting

The Ad Details that TikTok requests include the “Display Name: Enter the brand name or app name you want to display to your audience.” and "Profile Image: Upload your profile image. The profile image will be shown to your audience as part of the ad."

In terms of Ad Targeting, TikTok explains that there are numerous options including creating or excluding a custom audience or a lookalike audience. as well as demographic and device options to narrow an audience, including age, gender, interest, operating system, and carrier targeting.

A custom audience lets advertisers find people who “already know or have engaged with” their business. This is done by uploading a customer file which is then matched with customers using the app to create an audience. It can also be done by creating a list of people who saw or clicked or engaged with an advertisers content, who downloaded an advertisers app or took a specific action such as purchasing something or a list of people who visited an advertisers website or other action using the TikTok pixel.

Lookalike audiences enable advertisers to find audience groups that share commonalties with existing customers. The model uses algorithms to study attributes of the custom audience created by the advertiser i.e. demographics, location, interests, then look for other users and groups which share similar attributes.

TikTok's ad targeting options are as follows: 

Screenshot of TikTok's ad targeting options
Screenshot of TikTok's ad targeting options

The interests page does not provide an exhaustive list of interests.

To track app performance, TikTok have partnered with a number of third party tracking companies, including Appsflyer.

Ads Transparency

TikTok currently does not appear to have any form of ad library. 

In March 2020, TikTok announced the opening a Transparency Centre in Los Angeles, to allow outside experts to view and evaluate TikTok’s moderation practices. The Centre due to open early May will initially focus on moderation but later include insight into source code, and efforts around data privacy and security

Snapchat

Political Ads

Snapchat has a policy on Political & Advocacy Advertising. Snapchat takes the position that Snapchat empowers self-expression, including about politics but political advertising that appears on Snapchat has to be transparent, lawful and right for users.

Snapchat uses the following definitions:

"Election-related ads include ads about candidates or parties for public office, ballot measures or referendums, political action committees, and ads that urge people to vote or register to vote."

"Issue or advocacy ads are ads concerning issues or organisations that are the subject of debate on a local, national or global level, or are of public importance. They include ads about abortion, immigration, the environment, education, discrimination and guns."

There is a separate definition for Canada:

"In Canada, “partisan advertising” or “election advertising” (as defined by the Canada Elections Act, as amended from time to time (“Act”)) purchased directly or indirectly on behalf of an eligible party, registered association, nomination contestant, potential or actual candidate, or a third party required to register under subsection 349.6(1) or 353(1) of the Act is only permitted to run using an Ad Account created to be used for "Political Ads". This may include (without limitation) content which promotes or opposes any of these individuals/groups, or an issue associated with any of those individuals/groups."

Snapchat's policy provides as follows.

Political advertising must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including all national election laws, copyright law, defamation law and (where applicable) Federal Election Commission regulations and state or local laws and regulations. Complying with those laws and regulations will be the sole responsibility of the advertiser.

All political advertising must include a “paid for by” message in the ad that is followed by the name of the paying person or entity. Snap may also require a “paid for by” disclosure on ad content that links to political content, ad content for political merchandise, or in other cases in Snap’s sole discretion. In the United States, electoral ads must state whether or not the ad was authorised by a candidate or organisation, and election ads not authorised by the candidate must include contact information for the sponsoring organisation. (note this is specific to the US)

Ads must alsocomply with Snap's other policies, which includes no content that is misleading, deceptive, impersonates any person or entity, or otherwise misreprsents you affiliation with a person or entity.

Snapchat encourage political advertisers to be positive. They don’t categorically ban “attack” ads; expressing disagreement with or campaigning against a candidate or party is generally permissible if it meets our other guidelines. That said, political ads must not include attacks relating to a candidate’s personal life.

Snap states that they will review political ads on a case-by-case basis and that political advertisements served by Snap may not be paid for directly or indirectly by non-resident foreign nationals or entities – in other words, by people or entities that aren’t residents of the country where the ad will run.

Snapchat is reportedly becoming increasingly popular as campaigns seek to target younger audiences and take advantage of the detailed user data the messaging app offers.

Ad Targeting

Snapchat's Ad policy states that ads may not collect information about racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, health, sex life, or medical history.

However, Snapchat do provide various targeting options:

Screenshot of Snap targeting options
Screenshot of Snap targeting options

Ads Transparency

  • Transparency for users

Snapchat's policy requires that political ads must include a “paid for by” message making clear who paid for the ad. In the US, this includes whether or not authorised by a candidate or organisation and if not, include contact info for the sponsoring org.

We had a look at what an ordinary ad looks like on Snapchat, and what kind of transparency you get as a user. 

TikTok Ad on Snapchat
Screenshot of a TikTok Ad on Snapchat

After tapping the three dots in the top right corner, you see the "Show Ad Info" bar.

"Show Ad Info" bar
Screenshot of "Show Ad Info" bar

Which takes you here

Ad Info page
Screenshot of Ad Info page

and here

Ads on Snapchat page
Ads on Snapchat page

If you go into Snapchat settings, and then into Ad Settings,  you have two options "Advert Preferences" and "Lifestyle Preferences" which give you some options about the ads you see.

Snapchat advert preferences
Screenshot Snapchat Advert Preferences
Screenshot Snapchat Lifestyle Preferences
Screenshot Snapchat Lifestyle Preferences
  • Transparency for researchers

Snapchat have an ad library for Political and Advocacy Ads with archives from 2018 - 2020. We had a look at the 2020 Archive, a csv file, with the following columns (many of which aren't complete - its not 100% clear if this means the advertisers didn't use these functionalities/ targeting or whether the information just isn't available). Interestingly the information includes the targeted interests. This was most notably in the US but also in some European ads and we've included some examples below.

  • ADID
  • CreativeUrl
  • Currency Code
  • Spend
  • Impressions
  • StartDate
  • EndDate
  • Organization (this is a mix of marketing companies, including Data Sciences and some political parties/ campaigns e.g. Labour Party, Fianna Fail, or 'Pete for America' 'Warren for President' to political sounding groups such as RockyMountain Values and issue related such as PlannedParentHood but also a Scottish Gov campaign encouraging people to talk about periods. For the marketing companies you often need to read together with tech paying advertiser information to make this meaningful)
  • Billing Address
  • Candidate Ballot Information
  • Paying Advertiser Name (see comment above)
  • Gender
  • AgeBracket
  • Country Code (mainly US, then Canada, Europe, Australia)
  • Regions (Included & Excluded)
  • Electoral Districts (Included & Excluded)
  • Radius Targeting (Included & Excluded)
  • Metros (Included & Excluded)
  • Postal Codes (Excluded & Included)
  • Location Categories (Included & Excluded)
  • Interests (Mainly for US Ads, but one in Canada looking for teachers in Quebec; in Switzerland by a Community targeting Fashion & Style Gurus,Outdoor & Nature Enthusiasts, Pet & Animal Lovers, Philanthropists; in Norway for a Kommune and the Forestry service; in the EU, from Denmark, with a Danish political/ environmental/ vegan party - targeting pets and animal lovers; in Sweden, a Swedish church organisation, targeting Adventure Seekers, Do-It-Yourselfers, High Schoolers, Political News Watchers,Outdoor & Nature Enthusiasts,Parents & Family-Focused, Philanthropists, Worldly Travellers; in Germany, what looks like a political/ district organisation; in Ireland, Fianna Fail, the political party targeted 'Parent & Family Focused' (ad was about affordable childcare); and in the UK as well, Momentum (the Labour campaign group) targeted 'Indie & Foreign Film Fans,Green Living Enthusiasts,Political News Watchers' as part of the Labour Leadership campaign.
  • OsType
  • Segments (just says provided by advertiser)
  • Language
  • Advanced Demographics (includes occupation details/ retired, blue collar, new moms/ parents, small business employees, marital status, spanish speakers, education, household income, Life event such as moving, Home status such as renter)
  • Targeting Connection Type (.e.g Wifi)
  • Targeting Carrier (ISP)
  • Creative Properties

Pintrest

Ads are only available to business accounts in the US; Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand.

Political Ads

Pintrest’s advertising policy (which applies across countries) states:

"We don’t allow advertising for:

  • The election or defeat of political candidates running for public office
  • Political parties or action committees
  • Political issues with the intent to influence an election
  • Legislation, including referendums or ballot initiatives
  • Merchandise related to political candidates, parties or elections"

Ad Targeting

Pintrest offers a number of targeting options. Also see here for targeting codes.

Ads can be targeted based on:

  • Age (8 pre-defined ranges)
  • Audiences (through customer lists (i.e. emails or mobile Ad IDs), people who went to a site (using Pintrest tag with base and event codes e.g. retargeting people who added a specific product to cart but didn't checkout or who landed on specific URLs, such as checkout), people who engaged with Pins on Pintrest, people similar to an existing audience list (they call it Actalike targeting) based on what Pintrest know about people and their behaviour, uses an existing audience as the source. Audiences needs to have a minimum of 100 people to start using.
  • Expanded targeting to target to relevant searches.
  • Interest targeting taking advantage of "Pintrest's unique understanding of people's interests, takes and life stages" Pintrest does provide what looks like a full list of interests (3,405 interests).
  • Keyword targeting
  • Location, language, device and gender targeting. Location is region, county or postcode, the default is country where your business is located. Default for gender is all - or can specify.
  • Placement, to target more specific behaviour
  • Third party data targeting to leverage targeting segments from data partners.

Ads Transparency

It doesn't look like Pintrest have any form of ad library/ archive.

As a Pintrest user, when you see ads/ promoted content, who can click to see an option ‘Why Am I seeing this Ad’

Screenshot Pintrest Ad
Screenshot Pintrest Ad

Which sends you to a generic explanation regarding personalised content but does not provide the user with information as to why they are seeing that particular ad.

LinkedIn

Political Ads

LinkedIn’s ad policy prohibits political advertising:

“Political ads are prohibited, including ads advocating for or against a particular candidate, party, or ballot proposition or otherwise intended to influence an election outcome; ads fundraising for or by political candidates, parties, political action committees or similar organizations, or ballot propositions; and ads exploiting a sensitive political issue even if the advertiser has no explicit political agenda.”

Ad Targeting

This LinkedIn guide explains targeting on LinkedIn. The following targeting options are available:

LinkedIn Targeting Options
Screenshot LinkedIn Targeting Options

In order to launch a campaign you must target at least 1,000 members or 300 if you are using Matched Audiences.

Advertisers define:

  • Location (this will be based on profile plus IP address)
  • Language

LinkedIn recommend adding at least 2 more:

  • Experience (job function (standardised groupings e.g. medical, art & design), job title, job seniority, years of experience, skills (can be inferred by LinkedIn)
  • Company (company name, industry & size)
  • Education (school, college, university, degrees, fields of study)
  • Interests (interest - based on engagement with LinkedIn and the B2B topics they search for on Bing, examples include politics & law, sales & retail, Groups (i.e. interest/ professional association groups on LinkedIn), - Demographics (age -  4 categories 18-24, 25 - 34, 35 -54, 55+,gender - female or male, inferred by a member's name (!?) nb, advertiser has to certify - check a box - that won't discriminate based on gender and other protected characteristics)

Audience Expansion and Lookalike audiences are used to reach members similar to target audience in Demographics and Interests. Lookalike is where you already have high performing audience (e.g. with email, people visiting website) so you can find people like them. Audience expansion is when using profile based demographic targeting to reach similar audiences to selected audience.

You can also use 'Matched Audiences' for website retargeting (using LinkedIn tag), contact targeting (connect contact management platform or upload list of email address supports integrations with Liveramp, Salesforce and others) and account targeting.

Ads Transparency

LinkedIn does not appear to have any ad library or archive. 

If you are a LinkedIn user you can click on ‘why am I seeing this Ad’

Screenshot of Ad on LinkedIn
Screenshot of Ad on LinkedIn

This takes you to a page with information about managing advertising preferences

As the following screenshot shows, in your profile you can see the interests you are being targeted based on but not the other targeting categories.

Interest Ads LinkedIn
Screenshot of Interest Ads on LinkedIn

Spotify

Political Ads

Spotify’s Advertising Editorial Polices states in the section on ads prohibited on the Spotify Service:

"We are not accepting political advertising until further notice. This includes but is not limited to:

  • ads placed by or on behalf of political entities (e.g. candidates for office, elected and/or appointed officials, political parties, PACs, SuperPACs) and 501(4) organizations
  • content that advocates for or against political entities or legislative/judicial outcomes including referendums, propositions, or ballot measures"

This was updated on 31 January 2020 but has the following caveat: 

Screenshot from Spotify Ad policy
Screenshot from Spotify Ad policy

This follows reporting in late 2019, that Spotify would ‘pause' political ads in early 2020 on its ad-supported tier and original and exclusive podcasts as the platform does not have the "necessary level of robustness in [their] processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content"

It was also reported that:

  • Spotify was only accepting political advertising in the US. (Although this policy seems to apply across the board)
  • Only applies to Spotify’s ad sales, not advertisements embedded in third-party content, though those will still be subject to Spotify’s broader content policies .

Ad Targeting

Ads can be audio, video, podcasts, display. Spotify advertise that their audience is logged in with one persistent identity across devices and they collect billions of data points daily.

Spotify has identified key habits to understand audiences:

Screenshot Spotify Ads
Screenshot Spotify Ads

Spotify divide up and explain audience into categories such as:

  • Millennials
  • Tech Early Adopters
  • Mums

Ads can be targeted based on:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Language
  • Demographic-based and interest-based audience segments, crafted by analysing  users’ streaming behaviour on Spotify alongside their broader interests and behaviours, fuelled by "leading third-party data providers" in select markets.
  • Playlist - tailored to specific activities and moods
  • Genre
  • Platfrom
  • Location & time of day - specific country, region, county, city or media market

Spotify has Interest Targeting and Real-Time Context Targeting in their self-serve ad platform Spotify Studio. Interest Targeting is informed by their podcast, playlist and platform preference. Real-Time Context Targeting is to reach people at specific moments, e.g. working out, studying, dinner time.

Ads Transparency

There is no immediate transparency for users as they listen nor does there appear to be any for of ads library or archive.

Amazon

Political Ads

Amazon’s sponsored ad policy states that content prohibited in any ad element includes:

“Content related to campaigns, elections, or political issues of public debate; that advocates for or against a politician or a political party; or that personally attacks a political figure.”

However, Amazon are reportedly struggling to enforce these rules.

Ad Targeting

Amazon provide all sorts of advertising products on and off amazon, from display ads, to custom ads and operating a DSP.

Amazon provides an interest based ads notice, with limited information as well as the option to opt in our out, with the default set to interest based ads.  However, Amazon does not appear to provide a comprehensive list of targeting criteria, including interests.

Ads Transparency

Amazon does not appear to have an ad library or archive. 

As a user, in the product section of amazon you don’t see much information in the the ‘sponsored’ bubble and some products are by nature political:

Screenshot of Ad on Amazon
Screenshot of Ad on Amazon

Reddit

Political Ads

In April 2020, Reddit announced changes to its political ads rules. Political ads on Reddit are defined as including, but not limited to, the following:

"Ads related to campaigns or elections, or that solicit political donations;

Ads that promote voting or voter registration (discouraging voting or voter registration is not allowed);

Ads promoting political merchandise (for example, products featuring a public office holder or candidate, political slogans, etc);

Issue ads or advocacy ads pertaining to topics of potential legislative or political importance or placed by political organizations"

Long story short:

  • Political ads can be posted on Reddit.
  • Reddit only accepts political advertisements within the United States, at the federal level. Political advertisements at the state and local level, or outside of the United States are not allowed.
  • Political ads are manually accepted by Reddit.
  • Political advertisers need to verify their identity/authorisation.
  • Comments needs to be enabled for 24h on these ads.
  • Advertisements in this category must include clear paid for by disclosures within the ad.
  • All ads running will be referenced on r/RedditPoliticalAds, the Reddit channel where it lists all political ad campaigns that run on the platform dating back to January 2019.
  • This subreddit will display information on individual advertisers, how they target users and how much they spend.

Re Ad Targeting

Reddit allows advertisers to create campaigns for various objectives:

Screenshot Reddit Ads
Screenshot Reddit Ads

Advertisers can then segment their Campaign, Reddit provides the following examples:

  • Segment by targeting persona: “Interest_Lifestyle” vs “Interest_Entertainment”
  • Segment by Device: “Interest Finance_Desktop” vs “Interest Finance_Mobile”
  • Segment by Creative Type: “Interest Finance_Video” vs. “Interest Finance_Static”
  • Combine these: “Interest Targeting_Sports_Android” vs. “Subreddit Targeting_Finance_iOS”

You can target the Ad Group by:

There is also the option to expand the audience, by granting Reddit permission to extend your reach to similar audiences. 

Ads Transparency

  • Transparency for researchers

Reddit now provides the subrredit /r/RedditPoliticalAds/  with detail on political ads, which includes a variety of detailed information, including:

  • Advertiser/ Organisation
  • Billing Name
  • Billing Zip
  • Spend (by range)
  • Impressions (by range)
  • Geotargeting
  • Targeted Subreddits

They may also be tagged - Candidate Ad 2020, Approved in Error, Issue Ad 2020, Issue Ad.

Example of political ad on Reddit
Screenshot of political ad on Reddit
  • Transparency for users

As a user, you don't get so much information.

For example, you don't get information about ads on the front page:

Ads on Reddit Frontpage
Screenshot Ads on Reddit Frontpage

And when it comes to political ads, whilst all this information is available on the political ads channel 

Example of a post detailing a political ad with lots of information
Example of a post detailing a political ad with lots of information

Political ads themselves (when seen by a user), such as the one below, have very little information and do not redirect to the the details post exposed above.

Example of a political Ad, no link to the related post in /r/RedditPoliticalAds
Example of a political Ad, no link to the related post in /r/RedditPoliticalAds