REPORT Online political advertising 2019-2023: where did the money go?

EFOR has released two analysis reports, which illustrate how money was spent on political and electoral advertising between 2019 and 2023, via Facebook and Google, as well as what were the main themes circulated by political parties and politicians in the last year. At the same time, we also launched a section dedicated to this topic on the www.banipartide.ro page, where you can search for more information about party expenses.

Read the report Online political advertising: where has the money gone?  See the interactive reports on BaniPartide (social media spending)

See also the report on political topics in social media Online politics – January November 2023 (discussed topics)

 

The main conclusions regarding the expenditure

    • Between 2019 and 2023, almost 100 million lei were spent on political, electoral and social issues through Facebook/Instagram (80 million lei) and Google/Youtube (18 million lei) ads by parties, media, and other stakeholders[1]. Of this total, approximately 80% can be directly associated with political parties or politicians.
    • More than half of this money was spent by PSD, PNL and USR.
    • USR invested the most in online communication, followed by PSD and PNL. However, in terms of the number of Facebook ads, PNL was the most active, with over 70 thousand ads, significantly behind PSD and USR.
    • Campaigns with more than 10 million Google views are centered around elections and are relatively few. Facebook has been a much more heavily used resource.
    • The parties had different strategies for promotion in terms of visual methods and targeting indicators. On Google, more images (55%) and video (40%) were used. On both Facebook and Google, most of the money was concentrated on Bucharest, but also on some counties with important municipalities such as Cluj, Brasov, Iasi, or Times.
    • On Facebook, spending on main party pages accounts for 20-30% of total spending associated with a party. Most parliamentary parties also invested heavily in the pages of their leaders or former leaders, but PNL is rather an exception to this rule. No money was invested in the SOS Romania or Diana Șoșoacă pages, and AUR spent relatively little money.
    • Among the most active promoters of political ads on Facebook are several publications. Some of these have no content of their own but only promote articles from other publications, which suggests that they may be paid to promote or discredit certain parties. We have identified several publications that over-promote certain parties. The analysis identifies several such pages that support AUR, but also other parties such as PSD, PNL, or USR/Plus.
    • Party promotion is not only done through the obvious party pages but also through such publications or blogs, which makes the funder hard to identify, even if they are assumed. In election campaigns or referendums, some of these pages might have an impact, but they are not seen as third parties supporting a competitor, which reduces the effectiveness of control and the overall transparency of the campaign. Moreover, the transparency of the real beneficiary of a paid campaign remains problematic in some cases.
    • Existing data does not allow a better understanding of how subsidies are spent. However, we can conclude that online advertising is a tiny part of political advertising. In 2023, parties spent 110 million lei on press and propaganda from subsidies for the first 11 months, but Facebook’s ad library shows no more than 9 million. Also, since 2021 more than 273 million lei have been spent on propaganda from subsidies, which far exceeds online advertising. This shows us that much of the advertising money is not going into promotional campaigns on social media platforms, but instead goes to websites, TV and radio.



The project is supported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), through the Research Fund, launched to support the IFES Online Campaigning Transparency Community of Practice (CoP). The Fund aims to encourage innovation by supporting the replication of successful practices and the development of new approaches that will increase transparency and accountability in online campaigning for democratic actors.