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Politics Politics Briefing: Who is seeing political ads on Facebook?

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Good morning,

Political groups are using Facebook advertising more than ever to reach voters in the upcoming federal election.

The social media platform’s new ad library is making it a little bit more clear who is seeing those messages – and it’s not always who the groups want to reach.

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For an illustration, let’s look at the non-partisan ads bought by Elections Canada.

Forty-two per cent of the people who saw an ad about registration requirements for third-party interest groups were women aged 18 to 24.

The ad was seen by 100,000 to 200,000 people. (Facebook’s transparency tools provide a range, not the exact amount.)

That demographic does not appear to be well-represented among the people who have actually started many of the advocacy groups that register with Elections Canada.

Another example is a post featuring two young people that asks: “Will you be voting for the first time in the federal election this fall?” It was seen by 10,000 to 50,000 people – more than half of whom were people 55 or older.

According to advertising industry experts, the unrepresentative nature of the audiences for these ads is due to how advertising systems are designed.

Adam Ferraro, a strategy director at advertising agency Social Lab Group, said that digital advertising systems are designed to learn during the course of an advertisement’s life. "What happens with the algorithm is that will optimize against audiences who are driving the most affinity for that action," he said.

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In other words: Facebook’s algorithms take over.

Elections Canada’s ads were first identified using The Globe’s Facebook Political Ad Collector project, then cross-referenced with Facebook’s Ad Library, which launched in Canada in June.

The majority of ads purchased by Elections Canada were targeted at Facebook users in Canada aged 18 and above, according to the Ad Collector project. Because those targeting settings are so broad, they could potentially be seen by tens of millions of Canadians.

According to Facebook’s Ad Library, Elections Canada has spent nearly $36,000 advertising on its platform since June.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written today by Tom Cardoso and Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi today on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok. The meeting was the first that the two ministers have had since Canada-China relations became more tense in December. That month Canadian authorities arrested a Chinese businesswoman for extradition to the United States, and in an apparent retaliation China arrested two Canadians and charged them with espionage. “The fact we were able to speak and discuss these issues – face to face and directly with one another – absolutely is a positive step,” Ms. Freeland told reporters this morning.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Erin O’Toole says that, if elected, his part would try to re-engage with Saudi Arabia. “Once you have a relationship, you can then work on issues related to human-rights concerns about the actions of Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis the Khashoggi incident, democratic reforms, all these sorts of things,” Mr. O’Toole said.

Bombardier says it will work with Export Development Canada to hire a third-party investigator to look into the company’s due diligence practices in the wake of a World Bank audit that alleged corruption was involved in winning a contract in Azerbaijan.

Several Canadian energy executives are listed as organizers for a Conservative fundraising event in Calgary that included both donors who had paid the annual maximum and people who hadn’t paid at all. The energy sector has, generally, been unhappy with the Liberal government on matters such as carbon pricing and the environmental-assessment reform.

Wildfires are increasingly raging across the Arctic region because of climate change, experts say. And those blazes are unlocking even more carbon emissions, which is creating a feedback loop. “More fire means more greenhouse gases, means more warming, which then means even more fire," said Mike Flannigan, a professor at the University of Alberta.

The Globe and Mail’s health reporter Kelly Grant lays out everything you wanted to know about the U.S. proposal to import more of Canada’s cheap pharmaceuticals – including why the drug companies are unlikely to support it.

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The Trump administration’s point man on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said the U.S. is skeptical that Canada’s plan to involve Cuba in resolving the Venezuelan crisis will work.

And in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s working majority in the House of Commons is down to one. The Conservatives’ loss in a by-election will make it that much more difficult for Mr. Johnson to craft a plan for his country to exit the European Union on Oct. 31. “I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit and offer an alternative, positive vision,” said Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson, whose party picked up a seat. It may raise the prospect of Mr. Johnson calling for a snap election this fall.

Johanna Schneller (The Globe and Mail) on the women running for the Democratic presidential nomination: “Just listen to how women and men alike dismiss the entire idea: ‘Americans will never vote for a woman against Donald Trump.’ We must stop saying that, because guess what, they already did: Hillary Clinton handily beat him in the popular vote, and did so despite a pervasive, woefully wrong-headed idea that her bad qualities were somehow equal to his bad qualities.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail) on the Democratic health care debate: “If Mr. Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and the other Democrats on the Medicare-for-all bandwagon think they can win the White House by telling voters their private health insurance will soon become illegal, they’re lying to themselves.”

Thara Kumar (CBC) on Canadian health care: “Universal health care also allows us access to primary care and preventative medicine to keep our population healthier and prevent those emergencies from developing in the first place. Much of the available evidence suggests that the failings in our health care system are due to a lack of sufficient public spending, not because there is not a private alternative.”

Loyce Maturu (The Globe and Mail) on Canadian aid in Africa to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria: “Canada should not let its efforts stall now. There are lives on the line. I was saved by the Global Fund, but other young women are still dying as every day over 1,000 adolescent girls and young women are being infected with HIV. We need Canada to keep its promise to champion this issue and accelerate the financial support.”

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Don Braid (Calgary Herald) on the oil industry and the election: “Nobody should be surprised that industry leaders gravitate to conservatives, who are, after all, the only politicians unambiguously supporting oil and gas. ... Many of those executives support carbon taxations. They agreed to a hard cap on oilsands emissions. They certainly haven’t silenced critics, as [Elizabeth] May and [Catherine] McKenna constantly prove. But the attacks will get much worse as the election approaches.”

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