Can Facebook likes, status updates, and wall posts predict the outcome of the 2012 presidential election?
Facebook has joined forces with Politico to offer an analysis of the conversation taking place on the social networking site about the GOP candidates ahead of the South Carolina primary on January 21. And so far, Facebook has been accurate.
According to a survey of all U.S. Facebook users, the volume of posts, status updates, links shared on friends' walls, and user comments about Mitt Romney in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary predicted a strong finish. On primary day, Romney had over 100,000 mentions on the social network. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum witnessed a significant drop-off in Facebook interest after his narrow second-place finish in Iowa. Fewer people were sharing information about him with their Facebook fans, and Santorum ended up placing in fifth in New Hampshire.
Newt Gingrich received by far the most negative comments on Facebook over the past month (around the Iowa Caucus, over 50% of FB activity around Gingrich was negative), and his fall in the polls has been well-documented.
This is the first time that Facebook has surveyed its U.S. users around a presidential election in this way. This outcome is just one more signal that Facebook and Twitter have become powerful data-gathering tools in these elections (and in politics at large), and should serve as a reminder to the candidates to pick up their social media-game this year.
To gather the data, Facebook examined the volume of posting, sharing, and linking about candidates from Dec. 12 through Jan. 10, and studied whether the comments made about a candidate were positive or negative in tone. Facebook employed a tool called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, an automated process to analyze all posts and comments that made mention of the candidates. The software searched for words like "love" and "nice," as well as "ugly" and "nasty".
Thus, Facebook employees did not have to read any user content or posts to conduct the survey. Sometimes positive and negative comments were found in the same post and counted twice. But with such a large sample size, the method was largely effective.
So, if you're trying to get an edge-up on the political pundits and predict the outcome of the South Carolina primary, turn to Facebook for help. Will the viral image of Mitt Romney making the rounds on FB hurt his chances down South?
Photo Credit: codemastersnake