Tandon Researchers Advance Transparency in Political Advertising with “Observatory” Launch

For the past few years Dr. Damon McCoy, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at NYU Tandon, and Ph.D. candidate Laura Edelson have been shedding light on the people behind political advertising through their work on the Online Political Transparency Project . Building on this previous work, NYU Tandon announced on September 15 the introduction of two new tools to advance transparent campaigns: the NYU Ad Observatory, and a browser app called NYU Observer.

The former is a web-based tool that allows reporters, researchers, thought leaders, policy makers, and the general public to search by state or by political race, and thus identify trends in how ads are targeted to specific audiences. Data gathered could include what messages are being used, who is funding each ad, and how much is being spent to disseminate them. In addition, thanks to financial support from the George Washington University Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics (IDDP), journalists can access a notification tool to alert them to what candidates are advertising on Facebook and the audiences they are targeting.

The latter tool mentioned above, the Observer, can be added to a web browser to anonymously copy ads seen on Facebook to a public database. In this manner anyone, on any part of the political spectrum, can see them.

To read more about the new tools, read the full Tandon announcement here. The launch was also covered by Phys.org and in an article on which Kentucky candidate for the Senate is spending the most money on the campaign.