Who Targets Me is interested in “practical transparency for political campaigning”, in Sam’s words, and most focused on transparency for people running for office. “Others might be looking for other things such as fake profiles or state influence efforts. We’re looking at the very top of the tree because we think that sets the norms and examples around which the rest of politics and democracy work.”
Who Targets Me is working in an uncrowded space, in part due to the technical challenge, and in part due to an increasingly chilly research climate around the large social media platforms. They are a small operation and all of their funding is project based. Sam and his co-founder, who has another fulltime job, take on capacity and particular skills as needed, which gives them a certain lightness compared to traditional NGOs. “We’re a bunch of flexible people who have interesting and innovative ideas, which we try to execute cheaply and quickly and simply.” Despite their size, they are committed to staying “at the forefront of thinking on political ads and regulation”. They bring a more balanced voice to the policy space, where new entrants are often eager to simply “see everything banned”.
A lack of creativity in the policy response implies a general need to better bridge the product-policy divide, Sam thinks. “Two years ago we could have been experimenting with labeling in an independent way and looking through a more imaginative portfolio of responses. Alternatives are possible, but no-one is really doing the work of designing what better services might actually look like.” He also notes the need for longer term thinking. “We need to think about election years and cycles rather than the few months and weeks before elections. People’s opinions are shaped over a longer period of time. We should be looking for longer and using the aftermath of elections to push forward with reforms.”