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Digital targeting of political messages in Norway

How do Norwegian political parties use data analysis and targeting tools to target political messages? To find out, we have interviewed representatives from all nine parties represented in the Norwegian parliament.

(Read this content and download the report in Norwegian)

Targeting of political messages is often based on demographic data. This includes data such as age, gender and place of residence. Microtargeting is to a larger degree reliant on data that is unique to you as an individual – often derived from a range of sources that register your behaviour, interests and values.

Political targeting is not illegal, nor is it necessarily problematic. It can ensure that voters will receive relevant information and increase civic engagement. However, in Norway, the use of personal data in the context of political campaigns has not yet been investigated thoroughly. To do so is important in order to ensure privacy and trust in the democratic process.

We have written a report were we are looking closer on the use of digital targeting of political messages in general, and specifically in Norway. We also provide practical guidelines for the use of digital targeting in the context of political campaigns.

No widespread use of microtargeting technology in Norway

Our findings show that the political parties in Norway are somewhat careful in their use of targeting technology. However, this must be seen in light of the economic, cultural and organisational conditions in Norway.

The political parties in Norway have relatively moderate election campaign budgets. This limits their ability to purchase services that utilise micro-targeting of political messages. However, targeting technology is becoming cheaper and more user friendly. Therefore, current economic restrictions will not necessarily be an effective barrier against the widespread use of microtargeting technology in the near future.

All of the parties we have interviewed use Facebook to advertise political messages. In our interviews, we were informed that the political parties commonly use various types of data (such as data on geography, demography, interests and behaviour) to target their messages. The parties refrain from uploading information from their member lists to Facebook. The use of member lists in Facebook marks a clear ethical line that none of the parties are willing to cross.

Targeting technology is increasingly used to make door-to-door canvassing more effective

Data analysis has become an important part of door-to-door canvassing. Through data analysis, the population is categorized into different target groups based on how likely they are to vote for a given party. The data analysis is often connected to mapping tools, and in some of the tools the campaign workers or volunteers can make a pre-defined route which enables them to knock on doors only in areas with a high proportion of their target population.

The parties that utilise data analysis to make house-visits more effective, rely on data about former voting patterns in a given area, type of residences, as well as the age and gender of the residents in an area.

From our point of view it can be problematic to connect personal data with interactive mapping tools. If the mapping tools enable campaigners to identify single households, the parties will in many instances possess information about the political opinions of individuals.

Challenges

Our findings indicate that the actions of political parties in Norway are far away from the practices that were revealed in connection to the Cambridge Analytica-scandal. However, we have identified some risk factors and vulnerabilities: None of the parties have written guidelines that outline how personal data is to be handled during election campaigns. This makes them susceptible to the use of more invasive targeting technology in the future, especially when they buy services from new companies, or if there is staff turnover. Because of this, we recommend that the parties create written guidelines for the use of digital targeting technology.

In our interviews, it became evident that a lot of the parties adhere primarily to the targeting possibilities that Facebook enable. This can be a problematic attitude, because it is the political parties that have the responsibility for the ethical and legal handling of profiling tools. The parties must themselves take responsibility for how personal privacy issues are handled. They must make their own legal and ethical assessments, and not allow technology companies to draw the lines.

In political campaigning, the stakes are always high. Instead of letting technology companies set the scene for how the political campaign will be run, it is important that the political parties ensure that their campaigns is not a race to the bottom in terms of privacy.

Download the report in english

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