If you’re a U.S. Facebook user, any post you make that mentions a Republican Presidential candidate will be collected, analyzed and forwarded to Politico for further analysis.
POLITICO is joining forces with Facebook to offer its readers an exclusive look at the conversation taking place on the social networking site about the Republican presidential candidates ahead of South Carolina’s crucial primary on Jan. 21.
Facebook will measure 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. This aggregate information will be exclusively available on POLITICO with analysis by its journalists.
That means every post, comment or shared link that mentions any of the Republican Presidential candidates will become part of the analysis used by Politico’s news team.
The Daily Tech notes that “Politico will also have access to demographic information, including age and location.”
The announcement has some, like the ACLU, worried that user’s private information and personal political preferences may be exposed.
“Most troubling is Facebook’s willingness to search and collect users’ private political preferences and thoughts, preferences they may have shared only with their closest friend in a private email,” wrote Christopher Calabrese of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.
According to Calabrese, the group has three main concerns:
The first is that many users may not want to be part of any “sentiment analysis” or poll. For example, they may be a firm supporter of Mitt Romney but find Ron Paul’s ideas interesting. Are they now going to feel hesitant to talk about Paul’s ideas out of awareness that it might be registered as support or boost a candidate they don’t like? Second, we don’t see any mention of user consent anywhere in Facebook’s announcement. How has Facebook decided that users agreed that their personal communications can and should be used in this way?
Finally, what other uses might this information be put to in the future? Will it be used to serve users ads from politicians or manipulate voting preferences in some way? We can see the marketing materials from Facebook now: “Candidates, serve ads to secret supporters! No one knows about their preferences except their closest friends and us.”
The social media giant currently has over 800 million users worldwide, and says more users in the United States use the site than voted in the 2008 election.
“Facebook has been instrumental in expanding the political dialogue among voters and we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to offer our readers a look inside this very telling conversation,” said John F. Harris, editor-in-chief of Politico.
Both Facebook and Politico say that no one will actually read the posts and the whole process is automated.
“This is similar to the way Google offers reports on search trends based on its users’ aggregate search activities,” explains Liz Gannes at AllThingsD.
In the first such “primary,” Politico noted:
To determine whether Facebook users had nice or nasty things to say about the GOP contenders, Facebook employed a tool called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), which it says is a “well-validated software tool used frequently in social psychological research to identify positive and negative emotion in text.” Facebook employees did not read any user content or posts in doing the survey.
Facebook, for instance, used the software to search for words like “love,” “nice” and “sweet” on the positive side about candidates. And on the negative side, it looked for terms like “hurt,” “ugly” and “nasty.” As with any automated system, however, there are quirks, and sometimes positive and negative sentiments were found in the same post about the same candidate. That comment would get counted more than once.
Politico adds that on Jan 10, the day of the New Hampshire Primary, Mitt Romney led with over 100,000 mentions, about the same amount as Ron Paul.