The Facebook Ad Observatory is part of the Online Political Transparency Project, which operates from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. This nonpartisan, independent project is focused on improving the transparency of online political advertising, by deploying traditional methods used in cybersecurity to evaluate the vulnerabilities of online sites. The Project builds tools to collect and archive political advertising data, and makes these available publicly. We encourage journalists and researchers to use these to fuel analysis of online political advertising. In addition, the project conducts its own research, such as this cybersecurity analysis of vulnerabilities in the Facebook Ad Library.
About the team
Damon McCoy is an assistant professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. He received his Ph.D., MS, and BS in Computer Science from the University of Colorado, Boulder. McCoy is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award, former CRA/CCC Computer Innovation Fellow, IEEE Security and Privacy best practical paper award, and ACM MobiSys best paper award.
Laura Edelson is a PhD Candidate in Computer Science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. Laura studies online political communication and develops methods to identify inauthentic content and activity. Her research has powered reporting on social media ad spending in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic. Prior to her current time in academia, Laura was a software engineer for Palantir and Factset. During her time in industry, her work focused on applied machine learning and big data.
Jeremy B. Merrill is data journalism lead for the Facebook Ad Observatory. He is a reporter and a coder with a special interest in how ad-tech and algorithmic infrastructure is exploited for scams, shady political tactics and corporate sleight-of-hand about who’s doing what. He is fascinated by the possibilities of using machine learning techniques to enable investigative journalism using large datasets. The subject of one such investigation, where ML tools helped journalists search a large, multilingual corpus of leaked documents by (an approximation of) their meaning, was so incredulous of the combined power of reporters and computers that she tweeted: “715 thousand documents read? Who believes that?” Jeremy has previously written for Quartz, ProPublica and The New York Times.
Nancy Watzman is director of Lynx LLC, based in Denver, Colorado. She is a strategist specializing in developing and managing collaborations and partnerships to support journalists, technologists, and researchers in countering online dis- and mis-information, conducting investigations, and increasing newsroom sustainability. She is former director of and remains an advisor to the Colorado Media Project. She has written for numerous publications, including The Washington Monthly, Harper's Magazine, and The Nation. Her current projects include the Local News Fellowship with First Draft News. She is also apprenticing with her children, who give her insight into the workings of TikTok, Instagram, various subReddits, and other sources of online information used by teens.
Paul Duke is a software engineer. They received their Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Georgia. Paul previously worked as a Software Engineer at Google, and was fired after organizing for workers’ right to know what they are working on and how their work is being used, as well as advocating for improved working conditions for temps, vendors, and contractors.
Our partners offer other research tools and support for journalists to understand political advertising and campaign finance.
The Center for Responsive Politics, aka OpenSecrets.org, is a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy. Its deep databases on political influence–which include campaign contributions, lobbying, foreign agent registration, revolving door and more–are useful for journalists and researchers who want to dive into who is working to sway voters and how.
IDDP’s mission is to help the public, journalists, and policymakers understand digital media’s influence on public dialogue and opinion, and to develop sound solutions to disinformation and other ills that arise in these spaces.
Hearken helps organizations embed listening into their growth and operations to build more resilient companies and communities through consultation and technology solutions.
Democracy Fund is an independent and nonpartisan, private foundation that confronts deep-rooted challenges in American democracy while defending against new threats. Its Digital Democracy program supports work to strengthen online platform accountability.
Luminate is a global philanthropic organisation with the goal of empowering people and institutions to work together to build just and fair societies.
Thank you to these organizations for helping us promote the Ad Observer tool.
Mozilla is the maker of the Firefox web browser.