Politics Technology

Facebook now shows political ad spend. So we checked which party spent the most on Sabah

It was the election weekend in Sabah recently and, just in case you’re not aware, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, which comprises BN, Perikatan Nasional and PBS, won 38 out of 73 seats in the elections. Prior to this, you may have seen campaign for the elections to win the hearts of Sabahans that started even waaaaayyyy before the nomination day.

It went from putting up billboards of Shafie Apdal, with words stating, ‘In God we trust, united we must’, to circulating short video clips to social media users. 

Shafie Apdal’s famous billboard. Img from Malaysiakini

According to Parti Cinta Sabah deputy president Pang Yuk Ming, campaigning on social media was pretty intense in this election. 

“This is the key to getting your message effectively across to voters.” – Pang, as quoted by FMT.

Now, this got us wondering if there’s a way for us to check out the election campaigns political parties ran online. Lucky for us, our friend Seah Eu Hen from HAKAM Youth suggested that we use Facebook’s Ad Library to do just this as it allows ANYONE to look into political campaigns, especially on Facebook and Instagram. 

This feature began thanks to Facebook’s new rule that was implemented on 5th August that required all advertisers in selected countries, including Malaysia, to be registered or put a disclaimer to run political ads. Having said that, we’re putting several disclaimers for this article to avoid any confusion.


  • All info presented in this article are based on data retrieved from 5th August 2020 until 27th September 2020.
  • The political ads mentioned in this article were created on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.
  • Amount of money spent by political parties mentioned in this article may not represent the REAL total amount spent for a political campaign since we’re not covering other platforms like Twitter.
  • This article is focusing on political ads that ran DURING the Sabah state elections and not just for the elections.

See, the Ad Library report has a SUPERLONG list of political parties, organisations, news sites and individuals that ran various political campaigns on Facebook. So, to save y’all time from going thru those raw data (well, if you love raw data, you can check it out here), we listed down some interesting things we found from the Ad Library report, starting with…


1. Most political parties did NOT run any political ads on their main pages!

The first thing we did when we got to the Ad Library was to search for each political party’s main Facebook page. But we were greeted with this…

Apparently, BN didn’t spend anything on its own Facebook page. Screenshot from Ad Library

…even though the Facebook pages had posts like these…

Although they do have several posts like this that campaigns for its candidates. Screenshot from BN Facebook

And BN is not the only one. Out of 37 political parties, only SEVEN parties actually spent money to run political ads on their main pages. UPKO topped the chart when it spent RM10,090 to obviously campaign for its candidates in the Sabah state election la. 

What caught our attention tho was how MCA spent most of its money (RM3,248) to run political ads that may have NOTHING to do with the elections at all.

Click on image to look at more ads ran by MCA.

In the image above, you’d notice how MCA had only run political campaigns for Merdeka and Malaysia Day besides that one random post on how the govt is committed to stabilise the price of rubber.


2. …and MCA spent another RM18,000 to campaign for its candidates! :O

If you’ve browsed thru the list of the Ad Library report, you’d notice how the pages also consist of individuals or political figures, to be exact. In the top 20 pages listed in the report, seven of these pages are political figures

Some of the politician’s Facebook pages listed in the report. Click image to see more.

Most of these politicians would normally run their own political ads on their respective pages. And during the period of elections, almost all of their posts are about them campaigning for the Sabah state elections

However, we noticed how MCA politicians don’t really have to do this. In fact, MCA forked out a total of RM18,914 to campaign for three of its candidates Lu Yen Tung, Chew Kok Woh and Chan Boon Thian.

MCA candidates (L-R): Dr Chang, Lu Yen Tung, Chan Boon Thian and Chew Kok Woh. Img from The Star

Despite spending that much amount of money to campaign for its candidate, MCA did not win a seat during the elections. Its president, Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, confirmed that the party had indeed spent its time and money to campaign for its candidate when it thanked the party’s machinery in his Facebook post. 

“I realise the state election results did not favour MCA and more weaknesses must be addressed. MCA will conduct a post-mortem and vows to resolve all shortcomings.” – Wee, as quoted by Malay Mail.

Although MCA spent RM18,000 for its candidate on top of the RM3,000 on non-election posts on Facebook, that didn’t make it the political party that spent the most during the period of Sabah’s election. And that’s because…


3. DAP Sabah spent the most money for the elections – RM200k!

Earlier on we said that most political parties did not spend anything on their main Facebook pages. But what we noticed was how they’d rather invest in smaller Facebook groups or on the party’s division’s Facebook page instead. 

As a matter of fact, DAP’s Sabah division spent a total of RM225,076 on the Sabah election campaign. And we gotta admit that some of its posts are pretty creative.

What we gotta note is that while DAP Sabah mainly paid for its own political ads, DAP had somewhat contributed as well tho it’s only 1% of the total amount spent la. In fact, DAP was pretty active in campaigning during the recent state elections. 

Although it didn’t spend as much as MCA on its own main page, DAP has curated its content and targeted its political ads specifically for Sabahans. What this means is that, if your personal Facebook account has any sort of info on Sabah such as interests, the place you’re born or where you live, chances are you may have seen posts like this by DAP…

And because DAP contested under WARISAN’s logo in the state election, it explains why DAP went the extra miles just to put out these creative posts for Shafie Apdal. 

The result? Well, it seems like DAP’s campaign kinda worked seeing how it won six out of seven seats that were contested in the state election. In fact, it worked out for Shafie too when he managed to retain his seat in Senallang.

And part of it is thanks to…


4. A RESORT in Sabah that paid a Facebook group to promote… Shafie Apdal?!

Another page that caught our attention in Facebook’s Ad Library’s report was Sabah Unity Movement. And it’s not because it was promoting Shafie Apdal and his party, WARISAN, but because all of its political ads were paid by a person named Rebecca Michelle Siaw.

A quick search of Rebecca on Google led us to nowhere except for a college confession page. So, we decided to look into the details of Rebecca on Ad Library and the only thing we found about her is a link to a resort in Semporna, Sabah called the Scuba Tiger.

However, that’s the only connection we could find between the Facebook page to the resort. In fact, we weren’t able to find more about Rebecca and her affiliation to Scuba Tiger (she’s not the owner of the resort) or even Warisan. 

But that’s not the only odd thing we noticed. Apparently, posts by Selangor MB, Amiruddin Shari’s Facebook page were also curated and advertised by a team of individuals – this time real experts la.

⚠️ 预告!预告!这周开始,阿米的中文版社群媒体(Facebook及Instagram)上将举办一系列的意见征集活动,让大家发表对 #2021雪州财政预算案 的看法!🎁 我们将透过抽奖的方式随机选出25位提供意见的朋友来送出…

Posted by 阿米 on Ahad, 27 September 2020

Posts on the Facebook page, which were mainly in Mandarin, were curated and advertised by three parties, who are all from the same private company that specialises in political communications and media. In the past (well, not so far back in the past la ok), this company conducted studies on women voters in Malaysia and published opinion pieces on PKR, among other things

Update: The company’s name was removed from this article at their request. However, this information is still publicly available in the Ad Library, just sayin’.

See, Facebook Ad Library is pretty transparent so you can pretty much find any sort of data you want. But how would it benefit anyone? Well, for one…


Political parties can now spy on their competitors’ electoral campaigns

So, let’s be real. There are a total of 681 Facebook pages listed in the Ad Library report, so given the amount of time we had to write this article, it’s pretty impossible to explore each and every Facebook page la.

But fret not, if you’re a data nerd, you can get your hands on this data by clicking here or if you wanna look into our personal findings from the things we explored on Ad Library, click here.

See, one trend we noticed while exploring the Ad Library was how small Facebook groups or divisions of a political party and politician’s Facebook page are spending more money for political ads. But we know what you’re thinking – that this is not new at all. In fact, online political campaigns have been complementing traditional, physical campaigns and this can be clearly seen in the previous General Elections in 2018.

One obvious ways was by hiring cybertroopers. We’ve written about them before and it is believed that hiring cybertroopers for electoral campaigns is a common practice, especially in BN political campaigns la.

Friends of BN is believed to be BN’s cybertrooper.

However, according to research analyst at Nanyang Technology University, Najwa Abdullah, political parties have shift from hiring cybertroopers to collaborating with local performers and influencers in the recent GE14. This can be seen from BN’s #NegaraKru campaign.

We’re not saying that these parties no longer hire cybertroopers tho, they still do. The only thing that changes is the amount of money that parties invest in politicians’ Facebook pages as compared to cybertroopers’ pages. In fact, it seems as tho these parties are investing more money on politicians’ Facebook pages as compared to their own main pages.

At the end of the day, Facebook’s Ad Library only wants to ensure transparency when it comes to advertisements. And allowing the general public to find out who is paying what kinda content to which pages is one way to go about it.

In addition, political parties can actually use this to their advantages. Earlier we mentioned that MCA wanted to do a post-mortem on its Sabah electoral campaign. Well, one way MCA can improve is by looking at what its competitors such as DAP and DAP Sabah did for their political campaigns.

Having said that, the political landscape might be interesting to look at, especially when it comes to online political ads. Who knows what else we’ll be seeing from these political parties in future elections?

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