Facebook’s ad targeting tools could be a valuable supplement to census data


Official census forms are an invaluable source for demographic data throughout the country, but for trends that occur on the scale of weeks or months rather than years, they’re a bit lacking. But a new study shows that similar data used by Facebook to target ads could help fill in that blind spot.

Sociologist Emilio Zagheni at the University of Washington looked into the possibility, in this case specifically regarding migrants in the U.S. and their movements between states. He’s previously looked at this topici using Google+ and other internet-based metrics.

Say you wanted to know whether East African migrant populations were tending towards settling in cities, suburbs, or rural areas. The census process is completed every decade, which really is too long a time to observe short-term trends that follow, for example, an economic recovery or important bill.

But by using, or rather strategically misusing Facebook’s Ads Manager tool, one can find reasonably accurate and up-to-date info on, for example, Somalian…

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