How Facebook will be a battleground in the upcoming Ontario election

By Cynthia Mulligan

If you’re a Facebook user living in Ontario, there’s a strong chance you’ll see an ad from one of the provincial party leaders as we head into election season.

But you won’t see a random advertisement. It will likely be specifically catered to you based on your gender, age, where you live and what you do.

It’s called ‘microtargeting’ and political war rooms are getting more and more sophisticated at the practice. They can find you with laser precision and send you a tailor-made ad.

Here’s how it works: political parties can use the information from your profile and determine your age, where you live, and can assess your likes and shares to pinpoint your interests.

Facebook has 23 million users in Canada

Tom Yawney, with Toronto-based The Influence Agency, has experience buying ads and placing targeted advertisements on Facebook. He says advertising on Facebook is cheaper than traditional media and the messages also have the potential to be shared.

“It puts a lot of power in the hands of politicians and, apples-to-apples, it costs less typically than television, radio, billboards, and it’s more targeted,” said Yawney.

“Often times, whether it’s television, radio or newspapers, it’s one mass message to everybody, regardless of male, female, age, interests, it’s one mass message. So this is to really segment that message, make it more specific.”

Studies have shown that users are more likely to trust a post shared by a friend or family member.

Yawney believes after the fallout from the U.S. election, this style of advertising on social media will have to be regulated. The problem is: how do you regulate something that is global?

“A lot is known about us through Facebook… they say that if you aren’t paying for something you may be the product. So I think people need to keep that in mind when putting something online, if you’re not paying for the service, no monthly fee, then the info you willingly share is used as a mechanism to run advertisements.”

CityNews has checked to see how each party is using Facebook in this election.

Doug Ford’s Conservatives:

  • 65,000 people follow their page
  • It has live streaming video with reporter style stand-ups from the campaign and dozens of ads, including one specifically addressing healthcare for people in Brockville


Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals:

  • Nearly 12,000 people follow their page — the lowest of the three parties
  • There is video but none of it is live. As for ads, there are quite a few including one for Mitzie Hunter and targets people concerned about healthcare in Scarborough


Andrea Horwath’s NDP:

  • About 21,000 people follow their page
  • They have no ads but they do have video content


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