Can Facebook Tell Us Anything About Voter Sentiment?
Politico and Facebook are teaming to analyze users’ views of candidates in the Republican primaries. Sounds interesting, but is what’s being measured — sentiment — a useful indicator of voter intent without follow-up questions?
First, via Facebook:
Facebook will compile mentions of the candidates in U.S. users’ posts and comments as well as assess positive and negative sentiments expressed about them. Facebook’s data team will use automated software tools frequently used by researchers to infer sentiment from text.
But measuring sentiment might not tell political junkies much. TechPresident’s Micah Sifry thinks it a neat parlor trick but largely bogus as a valuable indicator.
Here’s the issue: Counting the number of times a candidate’s name is mentioned on social media and noting what words appear alongside those mentions can illuminate broad trends. You can report that “more people talked about Candidate X today” and “Y percent of that group used word ZZZZ in their comment.” But you can’t make any kind of meaningful judgment about what those people intended by that usage without asking them.
Someone who writes “I’m so happy that Newt Gingrich is staying in the race” might be a genuine Gingrich fan, or they might be someone who hates him, but likes that he’s staying in the race because he’s entertaining, or because they think he’s hurting the Republican field. But “sentiment analysis” is still such an embryonic field that serious researchers tend to avoid any hard claims about whether such a statement is positive, negative or neither.
TechPresident’s critique runs much more sophisticated than what we post here so give it a read before following every rise and fall of voter sentiment.
Image: Negative Facebook Mentions by Candidate, December 13 to January 10, via Facebook.