4 Things you need to know about monitoring elections on social media


A little while before the last US election (remember those halcyon days?) we began working with the Electionland project to provide a stream of reports related to the big news story they were tracking on the day - voter fraud and intimidation.

We learned a lot there, in fact so much that we built a whole new tool for unearthing live engagement with politics, which we used to support a similar project during the UK election - setting up a pop-up newsroom to look at a much broader set of politically charged issues being discussed around the country and abroad.

With the upcoming election in Germany capturing the world's attention, and those in Norway, Austria, Argentina and Chile all providing scope for further political change, here's a quick reflection on some of the lessons we've learned about content sourcing during elections.

1.  Being fast is crucial, and that affects the whole newsroom

During an election, everyone is on overdrive, and the time window for stories to appear and develop is very short. Discovering new stories first is the corner stone, but making sure there aren't any delays in the end-to-end newsroom flow is often even more important. It's a process that can be set up and tested beforehand and, when it's done right, it can cut down the time from discovery to publication enormously.

2.  The long tail of sources contain lots of valuable content

Everyone looks to Twitter for UGC, and it deserves its reputation, but there are other sources of first-hand, publicly available information that really hold their own during an election. Because everyone is focused on the same event, local journalists and other local activist and special interest organisations are doing discovery and often publishing relevant content. Being able to track everything they produce alongside traditional UGC can massively extend the reach of an election newsroom.

3.  Understanding the structure of interaction with elections is important

It's issues focused, it's people focused, and it's location focused. This is where Krzana has really shone during elections. The real value from UGC, for us, came from being able to read an activist blog and identify that it's talking about environmental policy and referencing political candidates from a particular district, or pick up a tweet that's talking about voting issues and a school that's working as a polling station that day. By building up a framework beforehand of which people, issues and locations are likely to give rise to interesting stories, we can identify those stories as they occur on the day. That's where having really good tools, and being well prepared can give a great newsroom the edge.

4.  It is vital to ensure that content is true

Elections are a particularly attractive arena for fake news. It's a highly charged atmosphere, and spreading false information is both easy, and potentially politically valuable. It's vital that the press helps solve that problem, rather than exacerbating it. Again, simple preparedness and tooling seem to be the most effective cure. Have a fact checking step in your news pipeline, and ensure that the process is applied properly every time. During the UK election we worked closely with Meedan, passing all of our content through Check, their verification tool.

Above all, be prepared. Elections are a wonderful time for UGC-driven newsrooms to shine, make the most of them!

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Image: justgrimes.