Module II > Section I

The Political Data Technologies Framework

Data-driven technologies are now a staple of digital campaigning and political influencing. They can be seen across the world, in different types of political regimes, used by various forms of political groups. While these methods of political campaigning, communication and outreach are accelerating in their usage across the globe, relatively little is known about how these tools and technologies actually function.

Political parties, with the assistance of consultants, data brokers and technology firms, utilise many tools and technologies to conduct digital marketing and brand-building within the political arena. The data companies and the political clients vary in their degrees of openness about their practices and engagement in the industry - tending towards less transparency rather than more. While we might end up hearing about Facebook advertising or Cambridge Analytica's profiling techniques, there are at least 40 distinct methods used in data-driven political campaigning.

The lack of transparency in practices makes it hard to know what data are being used to profile or influence voters, at what point they are targeted or on what platforms, and for what intention - a situation that becomes more important in disruptive and malicious campaigns. Part of being able to understand the tools is to better understand what types of tools there are, what roles they play throughout the influence campaign, and the different types of worth they have to political groups.

The most common technologies associated with influence are platforms such as Facebook or Google which can be used for targeting segmented audiences with personalised messaging. This understanding of data-driven influence focuses on observable content - that which appears in front of the eyes and ears of the public - such as adverts on Google, social media posts, or emails. Understanding data practices as influence prioritises the impact of the content on the voter - the content which directly aims to influence the receiver. However, there are various other ways that data-driven tactics can be of use to politicians in the processes leading up to, and after, the delivery of visible content.

To help make sense of the information collected and how and why it is being used, we developed The Political Data Technologies Framework. The framework helps to categorise the methods and clearly show the distinct political value that can be added to the data. Each following section describes these in more depth, explanations of several of the tactics, examples of how they are used in practice and have the opportunity to see the tools yourself. The Political Data Technologies Framework, and subsequent exploration of the technologies, aim to help regulators, investigators and concerned citizens understand more fully their political environment.

Image displays the words data as asset, data as intelligence, and data as influence in abstract formationThe Political Data Technology Framework visualisation, Source: Tactical Tech

Data as a Political Asset

Valuable sets of data on any citizen can be amassed and sold, shared or otherwise exchanged between political candidates, campaigns, and data brokers. These data sets are assets to the political campaigns.

The use of data as a political asset includes commonly sourced data from national or local government-held voter records which includes name and address, commercial consumer data such as people's shopping habits or political leanings, and in-house party data on voters collected during door-to-door canvassing such as their political leaning or causes they are interested in.

Data as Political Intelligence

Data is accumulated and interpreted by political campaigns to learn about voters' political preferences and to inform campaign strategies and priorities, including generating profiles from the datasets acquired and testing political messaging. This analysed data is intelligence for political campaigns.

The use of data as political intelligence includes technologies that use algorithms to combine data, monitor reactions to social media posts and tools for observing, testing and analysing voters and political discussions.

Data as Political Influence

Data-driven tools, especially those which are channels of communication, are used to target and reach potential voters with the aim of influencing or manipulating their views or votes.

The use of data as political influence includes some of the most well-known and analysed tools such as Facebook advertising or Google Search Engine optimisation as well as lesser-known or experimental tools such as geo-targeting and addressable TV.

These categories are not mutually exclusive and each can be used in conjunction with another or applied individually. However, each category should be independently examined as a political tool to be critically analysed and debated - the ethical values we place on targeted influence tactics, might be different to those we want to apply to assets or intelligence methods. Even within categories unpacking the differences between tools is necessary: regulation for voter files might be different for consumer files, and the ethics of a/b testing may be different to those for social listening. Follow the rest of the sections in this module to find out more about the details of the different tools and tactics that can be utilised in political influence.

Personal Data: Political Influence - Inside the Influence Industry. The full report on digital campaigning tools and voter dataDownload PDF

First published: March 14, 2022

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