WSU’s Travis Ridout and others are working to bring more transparency to the sophisticated, evolving advertising campaigns politicians are doing online

With a little more than a year to go until the 2024 general election, voters can expect to see a tsunami of political ads in the coming months.

AdImpact, a firm that tracks ad spending, recently projected political advertising will top $10.2 billion during the 2023-24 election cycle. That’s an increase of 13% compared to 2020, and nearly four times the amount spent in 2016.

Travis Ridout, the director of Washington State University’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public [Affairs], said much of the spending will go toward digital ads on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

In recent years, campaigns have also begun allocating a larger and larger percentage of their budgets to online video streaming services.

This explosion in digital advertisements is raising concerns among democracy advocates. Because the online platforms are largely unregulated, it’s hard to track who’s paying for the ads, what they’re saying or how they’re trying to influence voters.

Ridout is part of a multiinstitute team of researchers who want to bring more transparency to the issue. They recently received a National Science Foundation grant to help expand their efforts to monitor online political advertising.

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