Facebook may give Barack Obama a slight edge this coming presidential election while creating a wide misperception about who’s actually pulling ahead in the Republican Party. A new partnership between Facebook and Politico announced last week will reveal users’ private messages if and when they relate to their feelings about a political candidate.
Liz Gannes of All Things D enlightens us about the new dual effort, reporting that:
It will consist of sentiment analysis reports and voting-age user surveys, accompanied by stories by Politico reporters. Most notably, the Facebook-Politico data set will include Facebook users’ private status messages and comments. While that may alarm some people, Facebook and Politico say the entire process is automated and no Facebook employees read the posts.
Rather, every post and comment — both public and private — by a U.S. user that mentions a presidential candidate’s name will be fed through a sentiment analysis tool that spits out anonymized measures of the general U.S. Facebook population.
Apparently, the fact that “no Facebook employees read the posts” is supposed to assure us that the quotes are not being hand picked to prefer one candidate over another. After all, since the posts will be published worldwide it can’t possibly be referring to privacy (plus, the quotes are “anonymized” so they can’t be attributed to any particular Facebook user).
But here’s the thing.
Whether or not the quotes are actually being hand picked or being “fed through a sentiment analysis tool” (whatever that means) isn’t really that relevant because we all know that more young people than old use Facebook. That means that in all likelihood those candidates that appeal to younger voters (namely Barack Obama–surprise, surprise, Mark Zuckerberg’s apparent favorite) will be getting lots of play on the pages of Politico as the national favorite.
And here’s something else: Don’t be surprised if the Republican Party’s quirkiest candidate, Ron Paul, also comes out the GOP front runner. After all, it’s no secret that Paul’s young followers have been passionate about vocalizing their support perhaps hoping to convince Americans that Paul really is the front runner.
The end game here is that there may be a perception that Obama is ahead in the general election and Ron Paul is ahead in the Republican Party, which (let’s face it) may send any number of undecided voters back over to Obama.
The results passed along from Facebook to Politico may be accurate in terms of what’s being posted on Facebook, but they are not indicative of what views are held by the majority of mainstream Americans.