Soap Box is a project to bring transparency to political advertising online.
Political campaigns are devoting ever-increasing resources to their online advertising. Much of this money has begun to pour into voter microtargeting efforts that draw on the same infrastructure and techniques developed for targeted commercial advertising. Like their corporate counterparts, political campaigns are now tracking users and targeting them with tailored messages that repackage candidates to make them appear as attractive as possible.
Soap Box aims to return political contests to a more public forum and counteract voter microtargeting’s tendency towards a more exclusive, partisan, fragmented, and uncompromising politics. To do so, this project proposes to track, record, and pool political advertising messages as a means of exposing microtargeting practices to greater public scrutiny.
Soap Box has two practical objectives:
- To develop a set of techniques to track how, when, and what data political campaigns and their hired consultants collect about voters
- To develop mechanisms to automatically identify and record instances of targeted political advertising, with the goal of building a kind of clearinghouse of all such messages that would be available to all-comers.
In drawing greater attention to the practices and prevalence of targeted political advertising, Soap Box would discourage campaigns from:
- collecting information about core personal beliefs and associations—or trying to predict these facts—without the knowledge or consent of individuals
- attending to swing voters while ignoring other constituents who might be more costly to persuade or already aligned with their candidate
- adopting more extreme positions than than they would in a more public forum
- pushing otherwise divisive issues in their confidential dealings with sympathetic voters
- segregating audiences in such ways that voters are exposed to only a narrow set of especially salient issues
This project has been absorbed into the Princeton Web Transparency & Accountability Project.