The use and abuse of social media in elections

October 27th, 2012

The Pew Research Center reports that social media has become a feature of political and civic engagement for many in the U.S.

“Some 60% of American adults use either social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter and a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that 66% of those social media users—or 39% of all American adults—have done at least one of eight civic or political activities with social media.”

Wellesley computer science professor Panagiotis Metaxas has a short article in Science, Social Media and the Elections, on how social media can be abused in elections. An example he cites is the suspicious one-day spike of 110,000 Twitter followers received by a US presidential candidate recently and the subsequent analysis that showed showed that most of the followers were unlikely to be real people.

IEEE Spectrum has an interview with Professor Metaxas in which he discusses the issues surrounding social media and elections and mentions his recent paper, How (Not) To Predict Elections, that concludes that predicting election outcomes using the published research methods on Twitter data are not better than chance.

A novel use of social media to predict elections was show by FiveOneNine Games, who crunched the data from use of their election-themed Facebook game Campaign Story to predict that President Barack Obama the winner.