The AdLens report on political ads on Facebook & Instagram in Belgium, 2021

To subscribe to our newsletter, click here, to discover the AdLens project and its members, click here.

In this report, you will find data from January 1, 2021 to December 31,2021. All data is collected and archived by us, please contact us for more info, for questions or if you would like to have a closer look at our data: adlens.be@gmail.com

How this report was created

This data is taken from the Facebook political ad library, where we downloaded the data on a regular basis. All Facebook pages and disclaimers in 2021 have been screened, and were tagged with the political party they are part of. This results in an overview where you are able to see who is advertising political ads on Facebook. Important to note is the research done by the KU Leuven and New York University, which revealed that in Belgium about 9% of political ads are not correctly labeled. The AdLens report concerns the ads that have been correctly labeled. As we research the publicly available data, it should also be taken into account that political parties pay every single advertisement that we categorize as “belonging to party x”. A specific example was given by MEP Tom Vandendriessche (Vlaams Belang) in this article, where he stated his party is not paying for his Facebook ads. Another important remark is that the ads investigated in our report are not limited to Facebook, but also include Instagram, the Facebook Audience Network and Facebook Messenger. While the majority of the political ads are published in the Facebook newsfeed, Instagram is also used quite often. We currently don’t have detailed numbers on this usage.

Political ads in Europe

In the following map, an overview is created based on the total spending on political ads per country in Europe, for 2021, and a relative score (the total amount of spending per 1000 inhabitants). Again, this is an overview of all the ads ranked by Facebook as political, and as such, it includes amongst others government communication, NGO campaigns and some are just labeled wrong. In this ranking, Belgium takes a 12th place, often passed by countries who had elections in 2020 (Netherlands, Iceland, Denmark, Finland) or who will have elections in 2022 (Sweden, Hungary).

In the top 500 of European pages with the highest spend, we have included labels in order to identify these Facebook pages: political, governmental, NGO, …. Important to note is that not every page has been labeled as of yet, this is a work in progress for which we seek help from local volunteers in order to avoid errors due to a lack of local insight. (if you wish to help, do contact us here: adlens.be@gmail.com).What is clear, is that there are 23 Belgian pages in the top 500, of which 18 politicians / political parties. The other pages being governmental (European Commission, European Parliament, AVIQ), NGO’s (Greenpeace) and commercial (Ladbrokes). 4 Belgian Facebook pages are in the top 100 of political ads in Europe (this top 100 was fully checked for political parties & persona and labeled): NVA, Vlaams Belang, PVDA and Bart de Wever. Other political parties/politicians in this top 100 are Die Grune, FDP, SPD and CDU (Germany), CDA, Forum voor Democratie (Netherlands), Fidesz, Karácsony Gergely and Deák Dániel (Hungary), Arbeiderpartiet (Norway). Bart de Wever is still the highest advertised politician of Europe, followed by Karácsony Gergely (mayor of Budapest) and Deák Dániel, a political influencer (we wrote on the Hungarian situation here and will follow up later). Visual representation wherein we portray the political actors (parties, candidates) of this top 100 which we verified. Full top 500 available at request.

Political ads in Belgium

For the Belgian political landscape, the parties have spent altogether €4.713.096. This is slightly less than in 2020, where the total was €4.858.980. The different parties did alternate their spending though: while the Vlaams Belang advertised approximately 0.5 million euro less, other parties (NVA, Groen, Open VLD, CDH, CD&V) increased their spending considerably.

To be noted in the month-per-month evolution, is that the Vlaams Belang party started spending less and less starting in March & April, up to the point where “only” €3.000 was spent in August. In September and October, the spendings were increased again and they ended the year with spendings similar to those of the start of the year (122.000 in January and February vs 103.000 in December). The PVDA as well had doubled their spending in June and September, but their ads halved during the summer months of July and August.

Hereunder a representation of how this budget was invested. It went mainly to the national party pages, but often to several high-ranked members of the party (usual president or main members of parliament / ministers) as well. But with the exception of Zuhal Demir, the entire top 10 exists out of men. On place 12 we find Petra de Sutter, followed by Valerie van Peel (15), Assita Kanko (16) and Anneleen van Bossuyt (20). Bart de Wever, as noted before, is not only top spender in Belgium, but is the highest individual Facebook page ranked in Europe in terms of advertising spend.

Top ads in Belgium

Last but not least, here are the 5 most advertised political ads in Belgium for 2021. All of them are Page Like ads, with the purpose of liking the Facebook page. The first ad we find which is not from the N-VA party, is on place 9 and is an ad from Tom van Grieken (Vlaams Belang). This ad of Tom van Grieken did not run on the main Facebook platform, but on Instagram and had the purpose of gaining more followers for his Instagram profile.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
AdLens

AdLens is a team of activists, journalists, researchers, data analysts. We work together for more transparency of political ads on Facebook.