Use this lesson plan to help students think critically about political ads on social media

During an election season, we might take political ads for granted. From roadside billboards and yard signs to wall-to-wall TV and international journal commercials, we might be able to tune them out. But can we simply ignore the targeted political ads that show up in our social media feeds?

Social media companies collect huge amounts of data from us, then sell that data to advertisers. This is of course why we end up seeing personalized ads when we’re online — ads tailor-made to tap into our specific personalities, preferences, and even fears. Many of these ads miss the mark, but sometimes they get it right. We might even catch ourselves wondering, “How did they know I was just thinking about that?!”

When social media companies sell our data to political advertisers, the stakes get a lot higher. Many political campaigns use a tactic called “microtargeting” to send very specific messages to different voters. But how much can one politician promise? And can these ads actually persuade someone to vote for a certain candidate? In some cases, the worst of these ads might use disinformation or lies to damage a political opponent or — even worse — enable voter suppression.

Use this lesson plan to help your students think critically about the impact of targeted advertising on social media — both during an election season and in general.

Recommended for:
Grades: 8-12
Subjects: Digital citizenship, journalism, social studies, ELA

Prep for teachers
Preview the video “Political Ads on Social Media: Selling the Truth?” and look over the discussion questions below.
Make a copy of the “Are Targeted Political Ads Deceiving Voters?” Google Doc handout. (Tip: Before distributing to your students, customize the handout to your class’s needs.)
Review the “What Makes You Say That?” thinking routine from Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Resources.

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