Will Targeting Decide On The Election Outcome? Probably Not, Says FTI Consulting’s Anil Öt From Berlin:
August 2, 2017
By Jana Lechte
Happens all the time: You google some holiday destination on the internet, and for days you find yourself being chased by them. It’s called targeting, and it has transformed the advertising industry over the years. Little wonder that smart political campaigners in Germany have started to ask, what’s in it for us? Can we take political advantage of the fact that these days, it’s possible to directly address selected groups of people based on data analysis?
Targeting is not a new phenomenon and doubtlessly, it represents an advance over the scatter effects of traditional campaigning. But as a campaigning tool, it is not only used to transfer tailored information – but also to fuel fears and stir up antipathies against candidates. It all began in the US, when during the 2016 presidential race (remember back then?) data-mining companies acquired personal information on US citizens from various sources, and derived suggestions for Trump’s election campaign team. Based on psychological profiles and personal interests, highly personalized campaigning messages were posted on social media. Fear-driven voters, for example, received messages about rising crime, others messages with regional relevance: in Miami’s Little Haiti district, residents were provided with news of the Clinton Foundation’s failure after the earthquake in Haiti – not to convince people to vote for Trump, but simply to stop them from voting for Clinton.
With election day in September approaching in Germany, the question’s up: Would a similar scenario be possible in Germany? What if the populist party AfD, for example, were to specifically target voters living near refugee camps? A recent experiment by German scientists has shown: by using an online tool, about 150,000 users who just happened to like or shared content of different political parties on Facebook were personally identifiable– a potential goldmine for micro-targeting campaigners.
In comparison to the US, Germany’s tough data protection laws make it considerably harder for parties to use micro-targeting. Unless, of course, you do it in a transparent way, as the Greens do: They publish their various dark posts on their website, targeting, for example, messages on factory farming to users who engage in animal protection.
But what if you are, say, a foreign power with a will to impact on the German election, and obviously, without disclosing your dark ads? It’s a subject that draws quite some attention in the press, but so far there has been no prove of any such attempts in a systematic manner. However, the German government has made sure to let everyone know that they will have a watchful eye on this.
This much is certainly true, though: awareness on the part of the average German voter for digital technology and how it contributes to political opinion-making is still low. And while it is unlikely that the Bundestag election 2017 will be massively affected by micro-targeting, the voter in the age of big data analysis still has a lot to learn about a new type of campaigning – just as we learnt not to click on every display ad.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
About Mr. Öt
Mr. Öt joined FTI Consulting in November 2016 and started a graduate program in February 2017. Since June 2017, he supports the Public Affairs Team. Prior to his consultancy work, he acquired experience in external and internal communications at Messe Frankfurt. Anil Öt speaks five languages and completed his Master’s degree in international information management. Prior to this, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in language and communication at Philipps- Universität Marburg (Germany) and at Université Nancy 2 (France). During his first practise (Financial Institutions) at FTI Consulting, he advised banks, investment companies, asset managers, wealth managers and insurance companies.