A few decades ago, the only mechanism for making citizens’ voices heard before a presidential election was an opinion poll. The advent of social media has since resulted in unprecedented levels of public participation in the political process, but who is making sense of all that data?
The Electome, an analytics tool developed by the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab, tracks the issues that matter most to the public in this election season. An interactive monitor featuring Electome “Chat Scans” was recently installed in the Newseum’s Cox First Amendment Gallery, allowing Newseum visitors to see which issues have been most closely linked with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in social media since the beginning of 2016.
The Electome Chat Scans measure the association between the 2016 presidential nominees and specific issues discussed on Twitter. The Electome delves into Twitter’s database (which is growing at an estimated rate of 500 million tweets per day) and uses algorithms to analyze election-related tweets, categorizing them by topic and candidate. It also draws data from a handful of news organizations, providing valuable insight into the relationship between media coverage and the national conversation on social media.
The interactive monitor at the Newseum focuses on six key issues in the presidential campaign — national security and foreign policy, race, guns, the economy, health care and immigration — showing how public and media interest in each issue has risen and fallen from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, 2016. A timeline in the monitor marks major news events, which are frequently accompanied by spikes in social media conversation about each candidate’s views on certain issues.
While most news coverage of the election focuses on who’s winning, the Electome’s goal is to “offer an alternative to the horse-race journalism that has dominated election news for the last half-century,” wrote William Powers, a scientist at the MIT Media Lab. “Instead, we’ll surface and track the issues the public cares about, or what we call ‘The Horse Race of Ideas.’”
The Electome interactive monitor will be available at the Newseum through the end of election season and into early next year. After the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, the Newseum and the MIT Media Lab plan to update the installation so visitors can explore other issues using the Electome technology. The Electome project is supported by Twitter and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
|Cox Enterprises First Amendment Gallery|