You may think you’re politically subtle on Facebook — especially compared to your neighbor, who constantly reminisces about the good ol’ days of Ronald Reagan, or your grade school teacher, whose newsfeed is 90 percent inspiring quotes from first lady Michelle Obama —but Facebook knows better, and whether you like it or not, the social media giant has already neatly plotted you on the spectrum of politics in America.
Facebook is identifying users’ political leanings as part of its effort to target ads on a more personal level.
So, how does your own sense of your political views stack up against Facebook’s assessment? It’s now easier than ever to peek behind the curtain and see. The information is in the site’s “ad preferences” section:
- Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences, making sure you’re already logged on.
- Under the “Interests” section, click on “Lifestyle and Culture.”
- Look for the box titled “U.S. Politics” – it will describe how Facebook characterizes you, from “very liberal” to “liberal” to “moderate” to “conservative” to “very conservative.” If you don’t see the “U.S. Politics” box, click “See more.”
CNET editor Dan Ackerman explained that understanding users’ personal interests and preferences is a big priority for social media companies.
“So much of what’s going on in social media today — whether it’s Twitter or— is political,” Ackerman told CBSN. “[It’s] people sharing stories, sharing opinions, liking things, not liking things. It’s almost hard to avoid getting information about what your political leanings are.”
To categorize users, Facebook leans partially on ‘liked’ pages and users’ political preferences (if stated), according to The New York Times. Thus, if you liked the Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page, Facebook might factor that in to its assessment of you as “Very Liberal.”
But the site looks beyond these obvious indicators, too. If most of the people who like the same page as you —for instance Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, Facebook might lump you into that same category, the Times reported. The site bases ad targeting on users’ profile information, Facebook activity, and interactions with businesses, according to Facebook.
“This is just one category out of dozens that Facebook grades you in,” Ackerman said, noting that Facebook is devoted to building “a whole customer profile” for each user. The site analyzes your activity to guess everything from your kids’ ages to your current phone model, he said.
Facebook’s categorizations are invaluable to advertisers, who increasingly seek to tailor specific messages to targeted audiences.
This is the first time users have been able to see how Facebook categorizes them politically. The ad preferences page also includes dozens of other ways Facebook has categorized you. The page is interactive, meaning users can essentially “like” or “dislike” Facebook’s categorizations. It’s unclear how Facebook incorporates those reactions.
“I looked at my stuff,” Ackerman said of the page. “And I hate to say it — it’s pretty accurate.”