Tuesday, 9 May, 2017
Alogrithms and politics

A lot of fuss is being made right now about the use of social media in electioneering. There have been several reports claiming to unveil murky dealings, which read more like a detective novel than a news story.

There are connections, suspicions and strange relationships but no hard evidence. More opaque news than fake news.

Those who study these things have long been scratching their heads to try to find out why the Tories won the 2015 election when the opinion polls and the pundits said they should have lost.

It's quite possible that social media made the difference even though the usual excuse is that poor, young, badly educated people did not bother to go to the polls despite telling the pollsters they were going to vote Labour. Perhaps.

What worries me is not the ability of political parties to target individual electors with tailored messages. Sorry, but I don't believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus either.

A few pithy messages on FB are not going to change the world, or the world view of people who are opposed to your policies.

The great example of a social media campaign was Obama's first election. What he did was run a registration campaign. In other words, he was motivating people who were already in the bubble, latent support. This was the whole point of the Reading Pad system, a method that helped win many great election victories. Motivate your supporters and get them to the polls.

Opinion polls prior to the 2015 election. Given the oft repeated advantage the electoral system is supposed to give to Labour because it tends to win smaller constituencies, and the likely support of SNP, Labour should have won. Source
Political party advertising via social media is not a great threat to our way of life, I think. It is not going to change the world, probably.

What might would be subtle changes to the algorithms used by the social media companies determining the things that appear on your screen; your world view in a real sense. Now if that power existed that really would frighten me.
Posted by Jonathan Brind.
Tuesday, 9 May, 2017