The use of big data technology and web robots (or bots) within social media is becoming increasingly common. Here, we look at how these powerful tools that were used together during the 2017 general election campaign in UK to analyse and influence voters.
Only a decade or two ago, election and referendum predictions employed face-to-face and telephone polls in which respondents' preference for a certain television channel or newspaper was used to guess social status and level of education. These days, predictions from numerous sources are progressively more precise and timely.
Following the wider availability of analytics and AI (artificial intelligence), the tools and the power of their integration with big data are growing – constantly. In the quest for information, potent algorithms churn through our online browsing habits, purchasing patterns and any survey responses, however brief.
Additionally, social bots monitor platforms including Twitter, Facebook and other APIs to facilitate large-scale communication, generate comment and glean information. Campaign organisers gather details to influence political debate by pushing audiences or political opponents into reactions, while analysts pore over snapshots of likely voting patterns.
While the UK pollsters' performance in 2017 is still subject to some discussion, the final prediction of the Conservative vote was considerably closer than just two years before. In contrast, the Labour Party share may have been underestimated due to over correction.
Social media has the same intrinsic semi-anonymous characteristics as referendum and election voting itself. Consequently, it has proved to be a valid indicator of voters’ issues and worries. Politicians now focus and respond accordingly.
Beneficial – with concerns
Although the agility of this developing process offers possible benefits for democracy, there are concerns about privacy and manipulation. In particular, offshore brokers, agents and influencers resell multiple social media accounts; worryingly, such misuse may be open to radicals and foreign powers.