Micro-targeting can influence voting choice, UvA research project shows

Photo: Depositphotos.com
Photo: Depositphotos.com

Tailor-made messages from political parties that depend on your personality can have an effect, according to research carried about by scientists at the University of Amsterdam.

Political micro-targeting will likely have a role in next year’s parliamentary elections and research shows people’s behaviour can be directed when they read a politically-oriented advertisement on social media.

‘You can’t get a VVD member to vote for GroenLinks… but microtargeting could be the final push a voter needs to choose a particular party,’ researcher Tom Dobber told broadcaster NOS.

The researchers asked their subjects write a message on a self-made social media website that resembles Facebook. They then analysed the texts to assess the different personality types.

‘There are certain words that are strongly linked to extroverts and other words that belong to introverts,’ says Dobber. ‘The algorithm knows that and then divides those people into groups.’

Scientific literature suggests introverts are more sensitive to messages with a gloomy undertone while extroverts react more strongly to enthusiastic messages. In one of the experiments, a fake advertisement was made for the right-wing VVD, with two different messages for the different personality types.


The enthusiastic message stated that ‘The security in our country is better than ever. Vote VVD and we will ensure that you are fully protected.’ The second message had a completely different tone. ‘The security in our country is at risk,’ it said. ‘Vote VVD, because our security is more at stake than ever.

Extroverts responded better to the first message while introverted subjects felt more attracted to the second call.

The experiment shows that the texts people leave on social media can be used to make assumptions about their personality, and that, in turn, can be used to manipulate them, the researchers say.

There are no indications this has yet happened in the Netherlands, although research by the NOS has showed that, for example, that the VVD targeted tennis fans in the 2018 local elections.

The experiment was partly inspired by Cambridge Analytica scandal in which the political consulting firm built personality profiles of hundreds of millions of Facebook users and used it to send them tailored political messages.

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