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Bridget Barrett’s new research reveals for the first time that Facebook and Google are the central players in digital political advertising – and they’re hardly neutral content platforms. Her research uses Federal Election Commission data to show just how central these two commercial platforms are to the network of political campaigns and consultancies that use digital advertising.

As policy debates heat up heading into the 2022 midterms, this paper offers the first direct documentation of how much sway these firms have over political discourse. Facebook and Google are centrally positioned to shape the paid political messages that the public receive and determine who receives them.

These findings raise questions about how politically neutral these companies’ digital advertising policies and products really are. It argues that researchers and the press cannot treat these companies as mere distribution platforms. In the world of political advertising, Google and Facebook function more like members of political parties whose decisions are likely to have far-reaching consequences.

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