June 22, 2017
One year ago people all over the world were still trying to understand the political earthquake of the Brexit-Votum and a few months later Donald Trump was elected as US president. At that time, the journalists Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus published an article in the Swish magazine “Das Magazin”, which immediately went viral in the German-speaking social media community. The article explains the role of a company called Cambridge Analytica for Trump’s campaign. The foundation of the story is the following: Based on psychological research conducted at Cambridge University, it is possible to build character profiles of Facebook users by analyzing their behavior on the social media platform. Cambridge Analytica has used this method to classify potential voters and feed them with customized news and statements. The articles’ authors draw the connection to the “Brexit” vote, where the “Out” campaign had also made use of the services of Cambridge Analytica and convey the idea that big data can be used against people and their actual beliefs.
For a few days, the article was discussed as evidence for the increasing role of social media for modern election campaigns. Scanning through German-speaking social media channels, one got the impression that people believed such practices would completely take the voters’ free will. When the first excitement had settled, other journalists and scientists explained the original article had exaggerated the role of the social media analyses and while being an important tool, it has not won the election for Trump single-handedly.
Still, the whole story about the article, its viral spread and public discussion show some interesting features about the role of social media in election campaigns and the way people evaluate it:
- Structural social media analyses are used as a tool in modern election campaigns;
- Social media analysis cannot decide the outcome of elections but they most likely play a role;
- Many people are aware of the influence of social media analyses and cannot oversee the limitations and boundaries of their influence. This creates a feeling of some kind of “Big Data Dark Art” being used to manipulate people and take away their decision-making abilities.
In September 2017, a new German Parliament will be elected – an important election not only for Germany. The role of social media for the outcome of the election has been an important topic in Germany for quite some time now and the discussion will gain momentum until the election in September.
Against this background, the SSIX team will use the election as a proof of concept for the SSIX tools in a real-world environment. After the “Brexit-Screening” in 2016, this will be the second full-blown test of SSIX tools in a real-world environment on the political domain and the first one conducted in a non-English language – German.
The screening serves several purposes: First, the discussion about political topics, parties and politicians will accumulate on social media over the next months. Using SSIX, we will be able to show trends, the sentiment towards certain topics, parties, politicians, people’s assessment of certain events, topics and statements. To put it in a nutshell, the election campaigns and their impact on recipients will be analyzed in depths. This knowledge is of value for parties, media houses and any political stakeholder.
Second, a large scale, transparent screening of social media in an election campaign will help to calm the public worry about the potential abuse of big data and help to set a more realistic tone in the discussion.
SSIX election screening for the German parliamentary election is ready to start!
Please contact us for more information:
+49 211 887 1574
This blog post was written by SSIX partner Jan Kleibrink and Dennis Huchzermeier at Handelsblatt Research Institute.
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