As Toronto’s municipal election day draws near, candidates and at least one third party have attacked Ontario Premier Doug Ford in their Facebook advertising.
That is one of the findings of a survey conducted by The Globe and Mail of ads in its Facebook political ads database. The ads were collected using a tool built by ProPublica, a U.S.-based investigative journalism non-profit, and reveal candidates’ use of party- and age-based targeting in their messages to Toronto’s Facebook users.
The collector tool crowdsources its database of political advertising by asking readers to install a browser extension that watches their Facebook feeds for ads of a political nature. As more people install the extension, the more comprehensive the database will be.
Candidates are taking shots at Mr. Ford in a tumultuous campaign: For almost two months, from July 27 to Sept. 19, it was unclear if the Progressive Conservative government’s Bill 5, also known as the Better Local Government Act, would succeed. The legislation, which reduced the number of Toronto’s wards from 47 to 25, came with campaigns in the 47-ward structure under way, creating chaos for city staffers and council hopefuls.
Below are a few of the things we have noticed:
Candidates lambaste Ford
In some cases, candidates have used the Conservative legislation – and the ensuing confusion – as a rallying cry for potential voters.
In an ad our collector first picked up on Sept. 16, Paula Fletcher, city councillor for the former ward of Toronto-Danforth since 2003, vowed to “stand up against Ford.” Ryan Lindsay, an opponent to Ms. Fletcher in the newly redrawn Toronto-Danforth, also lambasted Mr. Ford, running an ad first seen on Oct. 10 stating: “We need to outfox Ford and put him on the defensive.”
Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner for the City of Toronto and incumbent mayor John Tory’s leading rival, according to recent polling, also took a shot at Mr. Ford. An ad first seen on Sept. 21, two days after the Court of Appeal of Ontario upheld Bill 5, called for voters to “defy Doug Ford’s attempt to break the link between citizens and the decisions that impact them.”
Progress Toronto, one of 11 registered third-party advertisers for Toronto’s municipal election, have also criticized Mr. Ford. Of the 17 Progress Toronto ads our tool captured, 12 mention Mr. Ford by name, with one accusing him of “meddling in our elections.”
Some of Ms. Keesmaat’s advertising has targeted Facebook users based on their party affiliations – a move that puts her ads in front of Toronto’s most politically engaged residents, many of whom are likely voters.
Ms. Keesmaat’s ads have targeted Facebook users “interested in” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne and the federal Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties. (It is not clear how Facebook decides what constitutes an “interest,” although users can see which interests are flagged for them on this page.)
Of the 31 ads from Mr. Tory’s campaign our collector captured, only one had any sort of interest-based focus, targeting people interested in “politics and social issues.”
Differences in age targeting
Ms. Keesmaat’s political ads also differ from Mr. Tory’s in their age targeting.
The average age target for Ms. Keesmaat’s ads since Aug. 28, when the collector first saw an ad for her campaign, is 22.
By comparison, until Aug. 22, Mr. Tory’s ads targeted Torontonians aged 18 or older. The next ad collected, first seen on Sept. 2, was the first to call out Ms. Keesmaat by name, and also the first to change age targeting to people 30 or older. Since then, Mr. Tory’s ads captured by the collector have exclusively targeted people aged 30 or older.