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Elections via Facebook. World and Ukrainian cases

Photo: StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay

Photo: StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay

Most social networks can be used to communicate with voters. But Facebook remains the most politicized and large-scale social network. For the first time, this platform became a real instrument of public policy during the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008. In 2011, the social network was actively used by the "Arab Spring" organizers and participants (for example, the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo), thereby changing the political configuration of the entire region.

Subsequently, the use of this network for political purposes has become more fundamental and innovative. These examples should be examined in more detail.


Cambridge Analytica

One of the most technologically advanced and well-known examples of working with voters via Facebook are the so-called "electoral revolutions" created by the Cambridge Analytica organization.

They are credited with participating in the election campaign of the 45th US President Donald Trump, influencing Brexit—the process of Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, participating in the elections of the president of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017. The British TV Channel 4, in its investigative film, even claimed that the company had been involved in more than 200 electoral cases around the world.

The organization of work is based on the use of detailed psychological portraits of users, developments in the field of Big Data (collection and analysis of structured and unstructured large amounts of data about user actions in the network) and targeted advertising. A cocktail of neuromarketing and Facebook algorithms allows one to find sympathizers where classic polls fail.

The victories of Eurosceptics in the referendum in the UK and Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race were not without the aforementioned methods. Through massive targeted campaigns somehow similar to opinion polls, the organization singled out groups of undecided voters.

For example, in the Trump campaign, analysts singled out 13.5 million voters in 16 states who were included in the category of "undecided but persuadable." They simply did not want to admit their support for Trump and therefore refused to participate in opinion polls.

In addition, analysts downgraded the Hillary Clinton rating and poached her audience with the help of incriminating materials (not always reliable), launched on several target groups of her potential supporters. For example, residents of the Little Haiti neighborhood in Miami were shown information about Hillary Clinton's refusal to participate in the mitigation of the earthquake in Haiti.

The founder of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, said that the company's specialists managed to find non-obvious connections and patterns of human behavior. For example, that people who prefer American-made cars are prepared Trump voters.

Such connections were used to target advertising on the Internet and personalize messages emanating from the headquarters of the Republican candidate. As a result, Trump volunteers received a detailed profile of the residents of the houses where they were going to conduct direct campaigning "from door to door."

Cambridge Analytica has indeed become the top innovators of a number of campaigns, including the victory of Trump and supporters of Brexit in the UK, political analyst Yaroslav Bozhko told The Page.

«Essentially, the use of micro-targeting in online advertising turned out to be innovative, but one should not completely write off these high-profile campaigns for the participation of this company in them. In fact, the political struggle in the United States is fought for 1-3% of the electorate in the right proportions from different regions, spread thinly between social and demographic groups. The functionality came down not so much to a complete replacement of campaigning and mobilizing voters with micro-targeting, but rather to a more accurate adjustment to 1-3% of those undecided living in the right place. Those who were already firmly "for" or "against" did not require such a fine adjustment on subjects, while for those undecided it really worked, linking the candidate's agenda with their personal interests.»

Yaroslav Bozhko

Yaroslav Bozhko

Political scientist, Director of the Center for Political Studies "Doctrine"

Facebook wars during the 2019 presidential campaign in Ukraine

In the 2019 elections in Ukraine, all presidential candidates used Facebook. The tools were different—targeted ads with high budgets, bots, hired bloggers, memes, and specialized pages to downgrade and redistribute competitors' ratings.

Do such tools work? Of course. These are soft power technologies that form the necessary information field and a favorable political agenda.

Among the presidential candidates during the first round of elections (from March 1 to March 27 inclusive), the most money on targeted advertising was by Volodymyr Zelenskyy ($93.33 thousand), Yulia Tymoshenko ($76.265 thousand) and Petro Poroshenko ($52.57 thousand).

At the same time, Petro Poroshenko had the highest expenses for the entire election campaign, including all areas and campaign tools—585 million UAH, according to the CEC.

Rating candidates also involved bloggers who, in a veiled form, sympathized with one or another candidate.

Most likely, the most ambitious blogging promo was in the election campaign of Petro Poroshenko. Supporter bloggers conveyed the desired socio-political meanings with the help of arguments aimed at key target groups.

The incumbent President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used mostly targeted advertising on Facebook, working hard on other platforms as well. Zelenskyy's supporters often formed into separate Facebook groups that quickly scaled into tens of thousands of members.

The digital headquarters, using artificial intelligence, divided its audience into 32 segments according to social roles, social status and needs, as the then digital strategist and current Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov stated in an interview with Liga.net during the presidential election.

According to him, the headquarters divided people according to the support of the current government and competitors—it examined if they liked Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, and so on. In addition, the experts used geolocation, targeted voters according to the cities, because the CTR   Term Tooltip Metric in Internet narketing, defined as the ratio of the number of clicks on a banner or ad to the number of impressions, measured in % close is always higher by city.

Quote"There were attempts to do it according to professions. For example, the communities "IT specialists for Zelensky", "Students for Zelensky" were created. This was targeted at an audience that was relevant to the subject," Fedorov noted.

Regarding Cambridge Analytica methods, Fedorov noted that his team had looked at and analyzed the targeting of Trump's headquarters, but in their work they had used such advertising in more detail than he had done. According to him, Trump did, in principle, ordinary things. He tested a picture and an image a lot, how and what worked best. And there were tens of thousands of ads.

Anna Simonian
Anna Simonian
CEO at the political PR and consulting agency Simonian PR Agency

"I cannot say that Facebook and other social networks have become a decisive tool in obtaining victory for Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the presidential elections.

To a greater extent, TV was involved in the victory, but, nevertheless, good targeting on YouTube, contextual advertising, dynamic content on Instagram calling for action helped revive the «keratosic part of the electorate"—voters 18-25 years old.

As for the digital tools of Petro Poroshenko, bot farms were a unique tool, if we consider them as such. They did a good job of polarizing the electorate. I think that Ihor Hryniv set himself just such a goal, and that is how the segregation of those very «25%» turned out.

By the way, many Ukrainian colleagues are talking about the implementation of the Cambridge Analytica system. I believe that there is not yet sufficient data on the preferences of the electorate and there is not sufficient Internet coverage for this system to work in full in our country."

Local elections 2020 in Ukraine

Local elections were characterized by less engagement and lower voter turnout than presidential or parliamentary elections. Accordingly, similar tools were used at the local level.

But this campaign distinguished itself by the appearance on Facebook of a video from another social network—Tik-Tok. The videos were recorded there by candidates for mayor of Kyiv—the current mayor Vitali Klitschko, deputy Iryna Vereshchuk, and TV presenter Serhiy Prytula. Later, these videos were uploaded to the social network, actively disseminated and commented on through pages and groups.

And if for the young audience of Tik-Tok this was the norm, then the older audience reacted differently. Someone was "for" such videos, because this was a way to show the politician as a more open person, and someone criticized such formats.

According to Anna Simonian, the micro-targeting of political advertising on YouTube and the flourishing of anonymous Telegram channels were in trend in the local elections.

Development of Facebook as a policy tool

Most likely, Facebook as a real "heavyweight" among social networks will develop and will continue to be a universal tool for promoting politicians. At the same time, partial fragmentation of the audience is already taking place and will continue to increase due to the development of other horizontal media platforms.

In addition, when using social networks, it is important to filter information and adhere to information hygiene so as not to become an object of manipulation and not to support propaganda narratives with likes and comments that sometimes appear in disguise in the Ukrainian information field.

Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, in his book "War for Reality. How to win in the world of fakes, truths and communities ", that was released in 2019, wrote that with the help of communications our life was accelerated to breakneck speed.

«Someone is constantly bombarding us with information. It means that someone needs it. These "someone" are well known: companies, politicians, civic organizations, states, and anyone who is interested in imposing certain beliefs and emotions on us.»

Dmytro Kuleba

Dmytro Kuleba

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

In order to protect ourselves from fakes and, if necessary, to "counterattack", Kuleba outlined five rules:

  • rely on reality;
  • think critically;
  • manage emotions;
  • feel like a part of society;
  • interact with the state.

All this is necessary in order to more orderly counteract possible communication threats.

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