The hashtag effect: How Twitter is shaping politics

10:59 AM, Sep 25, 2012   |    comments
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A good example is Twitter's launch of its Twitter Political Index. This index, says Twitter, is "a daily measurement of Twitter users' feelings towards the candidates as expressed in nearly two million tweets each week."

Every day, Twitter will evaluate and weigh the sentiment of tweets mentioning both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney relative to every other message that passes through Twitter's systems. The system then calculates a score for both candidates. The Twitter Political Index will be updated every day at 6 p.m.

Twitter, of course, has been used to study political sentiment for quite a while now. The company even has its own government & politics team to analyze this data and assist third parties with their own efforts. For this project, however, Twitter also partnered with the data analysts at Topsy, as well as polling firms The Mellman Group and North Star Opinion Research. USA Today will also use Twitter's election meter in its coverage of the ongoing presidential campaign.

According to Twitter, its own data generally shows the same trends as Gallup's approval ratings surveys and frequently "hints" at "where the poll numbers are headed." There is some evidence, however, that "the predictive power of Twitter regarding elections has been greatly exaggerated." That study, however, mostly looked as message volume while Twitter's barometer focuses on sentiment analysis.

Adam Sharp, senior manager of government, news and social innovation for Twitter, spoke on 9NEWS at 8 a.m. He put some context to the impact. 

"There are more tweets sent every two days than had ever been sent prior to the 2008 election, and Twitter was two-and-a-half years old at that time," Sharp said. "What this is allowing people to do is to get closer to the issues, the events and people of the election in a way they never could before." 

Sharp believes Twitter will play a very key role in the upcoming presidential debate at the University of Denver next week.

Sharp believes the trend echoes an earlier time. 

"It gets back to that model when people were sitting on the couch with members of family, having a real-time conversation about that experience," Sharp said.

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(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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