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Twitter Politics

Twitter Launches Political Index 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the up-to-the-second-useless-information dept.
colinneagle writes "Twitter today launched a new tool that leverages its estimated 400 million daily Tweets to gauge public opinion on the candidates for the 2012 presidential election. Progress in political polling is long overdue, and with Twitter providing a constant, international conversation for web users to join or leave at their own will, there may not be a better time than now to make that change. However, there are some concerns. One of the interesting points made in Twitter's description of its new tool is where it claims to be 'illustrating instances when unprompted, natural conversation deviates from responses to specific survey questions.' That assumes conversation on Twitter is natural. If parody accounts, Twitter trolls, and spam bots have taught us anything (and they usually don't), it's that Twitter conversation can be manipulated just as easily as it can be used naturally. How will Twitter distinguish between positive Tweets coming from voters or news outlets and those from spam bots designed to drive the conversation surrounding a candidate one way or the other? How easy could it be for an organization with a vested interest in positive poll numbers for one candidate to craft an army of Twitter bots designed to drive Barack Obama's positive numbers down, or vice versa? How many people reading the data, which is sure to make its way to TV news as election coverage increases in the coming months, will be aware that Tweets can be manipulated?"
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Twitter Launches Political Index

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  • by Chas (5144) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:25PM (#40846857) Homepage Journal

    If they have a bleeding story, no matter how fabricated or skewed it is, they'll run it.

    If they don't, they'll simply be trumped by everyone else who WILL.

    News agencies today are struggling under the lack of actual news-worthy content and feel the need to exploit ever more dubiously "newsworthy" events to fake the appearance of relevance.

    • by lorenlal (164133)

      What I wouldn't do for a "+1, Sad But True"

    • by Johann Lau (1040920) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:45PM (#40847173) Homepage Journal

      News agencies today are struggling under the lack of actual news-worthy content and feel the need to exploit ever more dubiously "newsworthy" events to fake the appearance of relevance.

      Hmm, maybe they could, I dunno, engage in actual journalism or something, instead of echoing press releases? That might help.

      • by gilgongo (57446)

        engage in actual journalism or something, instead of echoing press releases

        It's far worse than that. Almost all "news" is worthless, speculative, time-wasting trivia. Either that, or poorly-informed, badly thought out "opinion pieces". If you're bored on a weekend, try buying a "quality" newspaper, and cut out every article in it that you might honestly be able to say is important for you to know about or that contains reasoned argument supported by verifiable facts. Years of worthless "news" indoctrination

    • by Trepidity (597)

      I think that's probably true of Twitter themselves, too. This is an entertainment tool that succeeds if people pay attention to it, not really based on whether it predicts the election correctly (which nobody expects it to).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The purpose of news outlets is to sell advertising. The people who would be willing to absorb, understand and think about in-depth reporting are also the people who are likely to question the claims of the advertisers, do some independent research and decide whether they actually care to own a product before buying it - not a demographic you want to advertise to. The dumber the "news", the dumber the news audience, the better the advertising potential.
    • by dsvick (987919)

      I would even go so far as to say that the more skewed and outrageous the better from their standpoint. News, especially broadcast news has become so centered on ratings that the more wild, outlandish, or seemingly completely unbelievable the story the more likely they are to run it. And not only run but use it in all their commercials for the day, mention it prior to every commercial break during the actual broadcast, then finally air it as the very last thing so that when the viewers find out that is was c

    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      News agencies today are struggling under the lack of actual news-worthy content and feel the need to exploit ever more dubiously "newsworthy" events to fake the appearance of relevance.

      News agencies today are struggling under the pressure to make extraordinary profits by standards of how much news organizations made in the past.

      News organizations were never supposed to be profit centers. Wealthy families who cared about their city or country started newspapers. Television and radio networks created news a

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:27PM (#40846889)

    What use is a index, that is only taken from 40+ men in their midlife crisis, PR/marketing companies and other groups that want to look "hip" and "with the young people"?
    Nobody who's actually young, uses it. Ever.

    Oh wait... It's not supposed to show the political climate, but create it. My bad.

  • by Cid Highwind (9258) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:27PM (#40846901) Homepage

    How will Twitter distinguish between positive Tweets coming from voters or news outlets and those from spam bots designed to drive the conversation surrounding a candidate one way or the other?

    There's a difference? /s

  • I made a twitter account for myself over 2 years ago while using the same handle as othee email accounts. I lost/forgot the password and really don't care to ever tweet anything. Am I the only person who does not feel a 'need' to twit?
    • You are not alone. I have an account, but I dont know why. I have always thought that tweets, by definition, are the twittering of the pointless, and have never even checked for myself to see if my prejudice is correct.
    • by dsvick (987919)

      I set up an account several years ago. Made a couple of dozen tweets and then realized that, not only did no one care about my tweets, but that there was no one that I could conceivably think of that I would care about that much to want to read everything they did. And for people that subscribe, or whatever it is, to more than one or two others must have no time in their day to do anything but read what is probably mostly drivel that is written by someone else who knows full well that no one really cares ab

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:30PM (#40846969) Homepage Journal
    The real story here is that someone actually thinks posts on Twitter represent anything other than the mad ramblings of a fringe margin of society.
    • ...the mad ramblings of a fringe margin of society.

      Just wait; next they'll be judging public opinion off of Slashdot comments!

    • I'm not sure why you think that the vast hoards of the marketing departments are a fringe margin of society. They seem all too common to me.
  • Flawed methodology (Score:2, Insightful)

    by johnwbyrd (251699)

    Fox News's darling for collecting poll data about political events is Rasmussen Reports. In Rasmussen Reports's methodology [rasmussenreports.com], they make a series of random, pre-recorded calls to landline telephones. One sensible theory says that people who still have landline phones, and who take the time to do an automated random phone poll, tend to be older and retired. These people typically vote conservatively, thus causing Rasmussen's findings to be skewed conservatively.

    Likewise, any sort of "polling" of Twitter res

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A friend of mine just got a job doing some sophisticated, geo-ip indexed analysis of trending hashtags, which can be used for remarkably sophisticated real time marketing analysis. I don't know all the details because they're secret and he can't tell me too much but I know they can figure out in real time what is on the minds of people in various geographic areas. This can easily also be used for political analysis.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:32PM (#40847001) Journal
    I feel like there are some overlooked issues here like my own inkling that there is a liberal bias to people who are online and "tweet" on a regular basis. I'd imagine a lot of people in "the heartland" that work in remote areas and vote predominantly conservative don't care about 140 character websites.

    I'd also like to know how they would rate this following tweet (note: this is not my opinion on something, it's made up to illustrate a point):

    Oh THANK GOD for Obamacare, now instead of barely making mortgage payments, I can pay for my neighbor's cancer treatments and default on my loans!

    Clearly sarcasm but the first sentence fragment could easily be construed as positive or pro Obama by an unknown natural language parser. From the article:

    Each day, the Index evaluates and weighs the sentiment of Tweets mentioning Obama or Romney relative to the more than 400 million Tweets sent on all other topics. For example, a score of 73 for a candidate indicates that Tweets containing their name or account name are on average more positive than 73 percent of all Tweets.

    And what exactly does that tell me? That people are telling Romney where to shove his money or that they genuinely want to see him in office?

    • Oh THANK GOD for Obamacare, now instead of barely making mortgage payments, I can pay for my neighbor's cancer treatments and default on my loans!

      Chances are, if someone is using a candidate's name to make a new word out of it, it's probably not going to be positive.

    • Anybody who says that they can measure public sentiment with automated tools is selling snake oil. The semantic web is a million miles away from being here, and no amount of handwaving about the fact that they have a number negates the fact that the number is junk. Pure, total junk.

    • Obviously that would a Republican saying that. Liberals don't believe in God let alone thank them.

  • Silly OP, tweets are for twits...
    • Please, please... We prefer to refer to them as 'low information voters' and treat them as our most valued customers, second only to the assorted interests who provide us with the money needed to buy their votes. No need to be rude.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:33PM (#40847013)

    On the internet, nobody knows you're a marketing robot that has cloned itself 50,000 times on hundreds of internet forums and social media websites.

    Nanu, nanu.

  • Bleep you, Frank! [youtube.com]

    If Obama is polling at 48% to Romney's 47%, why would that have any effect on your voting decision? More to the point, why are campaigns obsessed with appearing like they're winning?

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:44PM (#40847163) Homepage

    How many people reading the data, which is sure to make its way to TV news as election coverage increases in the coming months, will be aware that Tweets can be manipulated?

    My estimate is rough, but I would put it well under 20%, based on conversations about the topic with average non-technical people.

    This is an example of one of the indirect perils of centralized communications. Even without the central authority controlling the content, the power implicit in comm centralization becomes a weapon against the free mind. If we don't replace Twitter, Facebook, G+, Hotmail, and the rest with decentralized alternatives, our society will increasingly be influenced by entities with the means and desire to alter public opinion.

    We need to be running the chat servers, photo buckets, and mail servers used by our friends and family who are less technically skilled. We need to get Diaspora (or a competitor) nodes running on a much larger scale. I am doing some, and I am scaling up as quickly as I can.

    Decentralized comm does not magically and completely solve the problem, but at least it would not serve up the means to manipulate public opinion on a silver platter.

    • Yes, a thousand times yes. "Freedom of the press is restricted to those owning a printing press."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      With just two parties that are more-or-less equal in resources and power, the manipulation should cancel out. And just like phone polling, there is a demographic bias on twitter, G+, FB, etc - but as long as they are known, then you get obtain fairly accurate numbers with the same kind of statistical voodoo they use to adjust phone poll numbers.

      Given that the correlation between the two candidates swamps the differences between them (on their daily chart), I think the error margin is at least +/- 20% - so s

      • With just two parties that are more-or-less equal in resources and power, the manipulation should cancel out.

        What about the stuff both parties agree on, e.g. that discourse should to remain within the boundaries of repubmocracy? It's just "good cop, bad cop", with the republicans being the bad cop for democrat voters, and the democrats being the bad cop for republican voters. When the management teams switch, like those tag teams in WWF, everybody is relieved/angry for a while.

        What should worry you is how e

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:50PM (#40847255)

    Now whichever candidate loses the election can lament that he won the popular Twitter vote!

  • "...drive Barack Obama's positive numbers down, or vice versa?"

    I wonder what the effect of driving positive numbers' Barack Obama down would be.
  • Anyone that's putting this much effort in will be aware of that and will be accounting for that in their scoring, topsy is driving this and they have a lot of spam experience.

  • Use betting odds (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alkonaut (604183) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @03:58PM (#40847359)
    A much better predictor is betting odds. Beats polls and any other index I have seen. As for the quality of twitter as a gauge of opinion, they just face a normal page rank problem. The weight of a quote about a candidate is determined by the rank of the account and the number of tweets from that account. The rank of the account depends on the followers and their rank, with validated accounts in the top. I didn't read tfa but it would surprise me if an algorithm like this isn't used. An army of bots would only have bots as followers. Just like splogs and other "ring" spam web sites. Deciding whether a tweet is good or bad is difficult. If you can't sense e.g. sarcasm in political tweets you will miss by a large margin. Doing that from 140 chars (plus history) would be a more impressive feat than using I for political indexes.
    • by Bodhammer (559311)
      I've been watching InTrade.com and it very interesting on all the races. You can bet on almost anything.
  • The graph does not provide any reason why a candidate would be trending on twitter.

  • Its one thing for coporate media to relagate discourse to only two 'approved' voices, but Twitter in theory should have no such obligation and should offer a far greater choice. Alas, the owners of this centralized star network think otherwise.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      The corporate media does occasionally notice that Johnson and Stein are in the race. For instance, the New York Times [nytimes.com] actually gave some coverage to Jill Stein, and The Daily Show [thedailyshow.com] had a pretty interesting interview with Gary Johnson.

      But that's the sad thing: their collective chance of getting serious attention is basically 0. I should also point out that the Greens and Libertarians, despite significant differences in ideology, regularly cooperate on trying to force their way onto ballots and into debates. I

  • Two Candidates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by misfit815 (875442) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @04:15PM (#40847555)

    Yes, there are two candidates with a realistic chance to win, but there are more than two candidates in the election. I was actually a bit surprised when I went to the site and only saw Obama and Romney on there, with no mention at all of Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. So, I guess I need to reevaluate my understanding of where Twitter falls in relation to mainstream media outlets. It's apparently a lot closer than I thought.

  • It seems to me that polling has been very destructive to the democratic process.  I don't want to improve it, I want to ban it.
  • We have a project at USC that we've been working on which is similar but we show a sample of the individual tweets that were classified:
    http://politics.twittersentiment.org/streams/ [twittersentiment.org]
    The system in the article doesn't show any of the data that they use to base the scores on, so it is effectively a black box. Also it lacks the entertainment value of seeing the sometimes funny twitter data. Also, ours is real time so it's interesting to watch during a debate.
  • That is all it is about.
  • I actually went to see "the tool" and it looks like Twitter is giving us the same old two choices (non-choices, in my opinion, but that is evident from my .signature ;-) ).

    It would be much more interesting if it were launched a bit earlier in the season, or, at least, include all candidates remaining, including third parties.

    At least Google Trends can give us a bit more interesting picture, e.g., this one: http://www.google.com/trends/?q=mitt+romney,+barack+obama,+ron+paul,+gary+johnson&ctab=0&geo=u [google.com]

  • " How will Twitter distinguish between positive Tweets coming from voters or news outlets and those from spam bots designed to drive the conversation surrounding a candidate one way or the other? "

    Follow the money.

  • Nearly every presidential poll I've seen lists the current ratio of popular vote. But all that matters is the popular vote in 8 or 10 states where the electoral college outcome is in doubt. Why Twitter expects anyone with intelligence (oops, my bad) to think either that the national popular vote matters or that twits who tweet in any way represent a statistical valid sample is beyond me.

  • Let's look at this new Twitter site, shall we? The only clickable links I can see are to follow Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. There is no explanation of what the numbers mean or how they're calculated, nothing. I'm not even sure what they were trying to achieve because the page has no information or context on it at all. This is garbage.

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