MIT Twitter dashboard muffles election news echo chamber

Electome uses AI to give journalists covering the U.S. presidential debates near real-time feedback about the sentiments of people in the Twitter-sphere

MIT Twitter dashboard muffles election news echo chamber
Credit: MIT Media Lab, Laboratory for Social Machines

The Twitter dashboard Electome project at MIT, which charts Twitter in unique detail for journalists, announced its collaboration with the Commission on Presidential Debates. Electome will give journalists covering the debates near real-time feedback about the sentiments of people in the Twitter-sphere. It is a feedback loop for journalists to measure public sentiment to balance the attention given to subjects that sometimes receive copy-cat coverage of a lead story by a major news outlet in which the public has little interest.

Electome was produced by Deb Roy, director and chief scientist at the MIT Media Lab, Laboratory for Social Machines; William Powers, longtime journalist and author turned Media Lab Electome research scientist; and Russell Stevens, project leader. Roy is also Twitter’s chief media scientist. He came to Twitter through the acquisition of Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics company he co-founded.

Roy explained why the Twitter dashboard is important, citing one of many cases where news coverage and voter sentiments on Twitter diverged:

“During the vice-presidential selection process, there was a two-week period [when] a third of all stories across all leading news sources were about [that process]. In the same two-week period, we found about 3 percent of tweets were about the vice-presidential issue. The journalists were literally an order of magnitude more interested [in that topic] than the millions of people on Twitter.”

Feeding the AI-driven Electome dashboard are 30 English news sources and all the tweets from Twitter, called the Twitter firehose. Machine-learning algorithms classify both the news stories and the tweets according to a taxonomy of topics on the U.S. election to create an organized view of how those two streams intersect or diverge to point out if there are systematic differences of news and Twitter discussions.

Said Roy:

“The overall goal here is to leverage this social signal, which is now of central importance in this election cycle, and systematically understand that signal’s relationship to the news media, and ideally create some sort of feedback loop.”

Roy’s team joins forces with the Commission on Presidential Debates for the first presidential debate tonight. The commission was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.

Both the reporting of this election and the influence of social media on the election have been hotly debated and the subject of much criticism. Electome might apply some balance.

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