NYU Ad Observatory


On the evening of Tuesday, August 3, 2021, Facebook shut down the accounts of New York University's  Cybersecurity for Democracy researchers working on the Ad Observatory. This action has blocked the team's research into political ads and the spread of misinformation on the platform. 

This document we've prepared will help you learn more about Facebook's position and the Ad Observer tool. Please visit Cybersecurity for Democracy's website for updates.


The Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics has helped launch a new media tool from the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. The NYU Ad Observatory allows reporters, researchers, thought leaders, policy makers and the general public to easily analyze political ads on Facebook ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections.

The NYU Ad Observatory is a web-based tool designed to help users search by state, as well as major political races, to identify trends in how ads are targeted to specific audiences and what messages are being used, who is funding each ad and how much they are spending to disseminate them.

IDDP provided financial support for building a notification tool that would easily inform journalists of which candidates are advertising on Facebook and the audiences they are targeting.

“Having an app like this that sends push notifications so a reporter can see who is advertising on Facebook, on behalf of which candidate or cause, targeting which demographic, represents an astonishingly great digital tip sheet and can help that reporter — who would have no other way of finding this depth and breadth of information — serve the community with real accountability journalism,” Frank Sesno, the principal investigator of IDDP, said.

[video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5aIA9hPjOw width:560 height:315 align:center lightbox_title:How to find trends on 2020 political advertising on Facebook]

Sesno will work with NYU Tandon and the The Poynter Institute for Media Studies to help train journalists in how to use the new tool. IDDP collaborates with the Poynter Institute, a global leader in journalism, and its project PolitiFact, the largest political fact-checking news organization in the United States, on fact-checking research trainings for journalists and policymakers.

Individuals interested in learning how to use the tool can register for training webinars through Poynter using this link https://www.poynter.org/shop/webinar/how-to-report-on-2020-political-advertising-on-facebook/.

“With the NYU Ad Observatory, we have created a tool with significantly more functionality than Facebook’s ad library currently provides. It is our hope that journalists across the country utilize this free tool to support their election coverage and educate readers about how politicians are targeting Facebook users,” Laura Edelson, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at NYU Tandon and the lead researcher behind the NYU Ad Observatory, said.