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Online Political Microtargeting: Promises and Threats for Democracy


Frederik J. Zuiderveen Borgesius ,

Judith Möller,

Sanne Kruikemeier,

Ronan Ó Fathaigh,

Kristina Irion,

Tom Dobber,

Balazs Bodo,

Claes de Vreese


Online political microtargeting involves monitoring people’s online behaviour, and using the collected data, sometimes enriched with other data, to show people-targeted political advertisements. Online political microtargeting is widely used in the US; Europe may not be far behind. This paper maps microtargeting’s promises and threats to democracy. For example, microtargeting promises to optimise the match between the electorate’s concerns and political campaigns, and to boost campaign engagement and political participation. But online microtargeting could also threaten democracy. For instance, a political party could, misleadingly, present itself as a different one-issue party to different individuals. And data collection for microtargeting raises privacy concerns. We sketch possibilities for policymakers if they seek to regulate online political microtargeting. We discuss which measures would be possible, while complying with the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.
How to Cite: Zuiderveen Borgesius, F.J., Möller, J., Kruikemeier, S., Ó Fathaigh, R., Irion, K., Dobber, T., Bodo, B. and de Vreese, C., 2018. Online Political Microtargeting: Promises and Threats for Democracy. Utrecht Law Review, 14(1), pp.82–96. DOI:
Published on 09 Feb 2018.
Peer Reviewed


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