The Observant investigations

algorithmic discrimination • election monitoring

Meta disproportionately targets political advertisements to men

We found that Meta predominantly targeted political ads on Facebook and Instagram to men in Turkey. In March 2023, 71% of the ads for top-spending 9 political accounts that advertised gender-neutral ads were targeted to men. Despite advertisers' gender-neutral targeting options, political ads were mostly shown to men.

Meta should develop mechanisms for controlled targetting in order to end algorithmic discrimination for a more inclusive and egalitarian political environment that upholds democratic principles.

Political microtargeting is the display of customized political ads to users based on voters' behavior, demographics, and other digital data. Through political microtargeting, politicians can deliver customized ads based on voters' characteristics. The difference between microtargeting and traditional marketing is that the ad is delivered through the digital data of target groups. For example, a politician can target voters in a specific region and in a specific age group and share ads on pension policies only with them.

While political microtargeting is beneficial for political participation, it can also lead to gender-based discrimination. 

Digital political advertising can benefit democratic processes by encouraging voters to be more likely to go to the polls and more actively participate in political processes. By helping candidates and parties better understand the needs and expectations of voters, they can lead to the development of more appropriate and effective policies and improve the overall well-being of society. However, our study reveals that political ads are mostly shown to men.


From the Meta Ad Library, the top 10 Meta accounts that advertised the most in March were identified. The gender-based exposure data of each of the 10 ads that these pages spent the most on were analyzed. The percentage of exposure of each ad was proportioned according to the ad spend associated with that ad. For example, if 100,000 TL was spent on an ad, its weight in the gender calculation was counted 10 times in the calculation compared to the ad that spent 10,000 TL.

Data: Percentage of advertisements targeted to men during Turkey's 2023 general elections:


AK Parti


Ali Babacan


Ayşen Kurt


Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP)


Oy ve Ötesi


Sinan Oğan


Uluslararası Af Örgütü Türkiye Şubesi


Vatan Partisi


Yakup Türkal



Political microtargeting can have severe consequences for democracies.

Political microtargeting prevents women from benefiting from political content. In the information ecosystem created by microtargeting, women are excluded from a significant part of the political debate. This hinders the healthy functioning of democratic processes and disadvantages women's participation in political processes.

Policies should be developed taking into account the damage that political microtargeting does to democratic processes by deepening echo chambers.

The echo chamber refers to a situation in which people only interact with people who are similar to themselves and are therefore unaware of different opinions. Social media platforms can have a similar effect. Showing users the posts of their friends or people with similar views can prevent them from encountering different views. Political microtargeting also contributes to these echo chambers. When advertisers target users with certain characteristics, users may only see political views that are close to their own. Users are therefore less likely to encounter opinions other than their own.

Microtargeting can also lead to discrimination at the hands of advertisers.

Advertisers' selection of target audiences can be discriminatory. Targeting users based on certain demographic or behavioral data may deepen existing inequalities. For example, displaying a mechanical engineering job advertisement only to male users will lead to gender-based discrimination in recruitment. Similarly, not including cities in Eastern Anatolia in the advertiser's target region may result in ethnic-based discrimination. The micro-targeting done by the Facebook algorithm while optimizing the ad should also be evaluated in this context. Targeting by algorithms regardless of the target audience chosen by the advertiser can lead to exclusion and discrimination. 

Political microtargeting is not the only practice of Meta that harms women's political participation: Digital violence and harassment also negatively impact women's political participation.

Research shows that women are more likely than men to encounter sexist and discriminatory comments when they express their opinions on social media. Digital violence and harassment caused by these comments reduce women's participation in political debates. Being subjected to sexist comments and harassment more than men in political debates prevents women from expressing themselves digitally.