Are election campaigns influenced through the manipulation of social media?

This article was published in the Observer 26 February 2017:

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

robertmercerThe article shows how big data and AI/machine learning can be used not just to track sentiment on social media but also how it might have been used to shape sentiment in the Trump and Brexit campaigns. I’ve taken three quotes from what is a long article (I hope I haven’t done it too much of a violence) to show big data analytics at work. The steps are the same as usual – there’s just more data, smarter AI, and more at stake:

First, get lots of data

“On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly.”

Second, do some predictive modelling

“These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says Kosinski.”

 Third, get actionable insight

“He suspects that Mercer is bringing the brilliant computational skills he brought to finance to bear on another very different sphere. “We make mathematical models of the financial markets which are probability models, and from those we try and make predictions. What I suspect Cambridge Analytica do is that they build probability models of how people vote. And then they look at what they can do to influence that.””


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