Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

How super were Super PACs this presidential race?

Nov. 30, 2012, 7:04 a.m., Posted by Glassy Media, LLC

superpacapp

It all started with a simple idea. Wouldn't it be great if you could just hold up your phone to the TV to find out what was going on with all those Super PAC ads? Developed initially as a small project for a Social Television class at MIT's Media Lab, the Super PAC App did exactly that. Using audio recognition technology, our app offered transparency and voter engagement to a $650 million plus littered landscape of TV ads from outside groups.

Post election, we have made Super PAC App's data and source code available on our website superpacapp.org. Not only did we track all presidential TV ads this election (official campaigns, Super PACs, nonprofits, etc...), but we have the ad claims as well as ad ratings from our users. All in one place. This makes for some interesting data to explore.

The blog Something's Brewing dug into some of our data, specifically ads rated by our users as FAIL. Based on this data, ads sponsored by the official campaigns were the least likely to be rated as FAIL where Super PAC App users overwhelmingly found ads sponsored by nonprofits to "fail" an honesty/accuracy test. With many wondering what impact Super PACs actually had on the presidential race (some argue they created so much clutter, swing states tuned out vs. the race wouldn't have been as close without them), this data can help us get a better understanding of what role they played in the campaign.

While working on this app, I witnessed how technology is providing new and creative opportunities to educate and engage voters. The rise and popularity of fact checking this election also points to a demand for truth and clarity at a time when infomania has become the norm, and the 24 hour TV news cycle has become a 24 second social media cycle. TV is becoming more social as a result, and this relationship may be the key to figuring out the future of television.

As Super PAC App quiets down following six months of ad tracking, we are currently exploring new opportunities for the future, including branching out to identify all types of ads. But as journos and politicos recover from the campaign marathon, we look forward to seeing what insights lie in Super PAC App's data. Do let us know what you find.

By Jennifer Hollett, co-founder of the Super PAC App