Politicians are learning from social media

Demos is a cross-party research organisation and it has brought its investigative skills to bear on social media. The work led, ultimately, to the creation of Demos’ Centre For Analysis Of Social Media (CASM) – a partnership with University of Sussex.

From CASM came Method 52, a piece of machine-learning software that brings social media analytics and social research in-line with academic standards – rigorous standards that government is willing to listen to. And to help politicians understand its research, Demos has worked with BCS to create an innovative and visual dashboard system.

‘Around five years ago we watched the rise of social media and we thought this would be a potentially useful tool through which we can understand some of the issues that we’re already dealing with,’ said Demo’s Krasodomski-Jones, recalling the decisions that led ultimately to Method 52’s creation.

The idea seemed logical and the necessary tools appeared to already exist. ‘Coke was interested in how many times you click on its site. Nike was interested in sentiment about its shoes online,’ he recalled.

Demos explored these internet marketing insights and the tools that were used to create them. But, when it spoke to politicians, they said: ‘It’s great. It’s modern. It’s up-to-date. It’s shiny. But I can’t use this stuff. We’re not interested in the same insights Nike is interested in. We don’t know how accurate this data is and we don’t know who is represented. We don’t know who is speaking and we don’t know what’s going on inside the technology.’

Researcher and machine in unison
Five years in the making, CASM’s Method 52 is a human assisted machine learning platform. It works hand-in-hand with researchers and can be used to aid political insight through looking for patterns in huge data sets of Tweets. These sets, Krasodomski-Jones, explained can consist millions of tweets – so large they are impossible for a human to grapple with alone

A focus on Twitter
For the purpose of dealing with UK politics, Demos looks primarily at Twitter. This, of course, leads to a natural question: is Demos looking at a representative cross-section of society? Twitter is, after all, much loved by the London media set, politicians and opinion makers. Could looking at the micro blogging site lead to some kind of bias?

Refining the tool
Despite being very rigorous in its approach to analysing and understanding trends on social media, there was still work to be done. Working with BCS, Demos developed a dashboard tool that makes Method 52’s findings easier to understand. Politicians, Alex Krasodomski-Jones explained, can be notoriously time poor.