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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