Abstract: The last few years have witnessed a growing societal and scholarly interest in the potential of online political microtargeting to affect election outcomes in favor of parties and candidates. It has often been rightly pointed out that political microtargeting can pose risks to electoral integrity in democracies. But can political microtargeting also benefit democratic functioning? Very little is known about the potential of political microtargeting to affect citizens’ attitudes towards politics and increase their civic participation. To address this paucity, this article presents a preregistered online experiment conducted in Germany among young adults (N = 445), examining whether (targeted) civic education ads on Instagram increase political interest, efficacy, and civic participation. An innovative methodological approach to studying political microtargeting is deployed, exposing respondents to civic education ads in a mock Instagram feed, personalized in real-time based on individual preferences. We find no direct evidence of (targeted) civic education ads, leading us to believe that (targeted) ads do not unconditionally affect political interest, efficacy, or civic participation.
Keywords: civic education; civic participation; Instagram; online advertisements; political microtargeting