Elections & OSINT Webinar

Elections & OSINT Webinar

After the 2016 US Presidential elections and the success of the Vote Leave campaign in the UK, there could be no doubt about the significance and importance of utilizing big data in political communication. Both electoral and permanent campaigns, in order to be successful, need to regularly evaluate the public opinion of a candidate and his or her opponents, relevant issues, public image of the party, interest groups, media coverage of the race, etc. Even though data significates the power of knowledge, it appears in various forms ranging from unstructured data in text forms collected from social media to semi-structured metadata, etc.

This webinar discusses the usage of publicly available data in electoral or permanent campaigns and the impact of current events, such as the Coronavirus crisis, on the political campaigns and the electoral process.

SAIL LABS’ Marketing and Communications Specialist, Dominika Betakova, speaks about political marketing, the role of open source data and the media monitoring in campaigns’ phases or opposition research. She also depicts the challenges that COVID-19 pandemic introduces into the electoral process and what we might see as a result.

If you are interested in the role and the usage of media monitoring in electoral or permanent campaigns, you can download a White Paper dedicated to this topic illustrated through Brexit use case.

The Media Mining System is a platform designed for media monitoring, analysis and data-driven decision making by extracting and analyzing multilingual information from open sources, such as TV, radio, blogs, social media, etc., in real time. This webinar also provides the participants with an overview of the system’s features, which enable users to investigate stories, first source of any news, social media topics and much more, making it possible to navigate the vast amount of information and to identify and counter disinformation.

Webinar's summary

Dominika starts by explaining the differences between business marketing and political marketing and how have the economic concepts migrated into electoral process in order to raise the effectivness of modern campaigns. She introduces the tools used by political marketing and carries on with the historical changes in campaigns’ development.

Political campaigns' evolution in time

Here we can see a typology of the evolution of campaign communications by Pippa Norris. Norris divides the type of campaigns into three eras – premodern (up to 1950), modern (1960-1980) and post-modern (after 1990) and depicts eight aspects in which campaigns have changed in time.

For instance, the length of the preparations is different than in the past. What we observed until 1950s was short-term, ad-hoc prepared campaigns compared to nowadays permanent campaigns. This kind of campaign never ends – politicians and political parties communicate with their electorate practically all the time which is possible by means of social media. Another aspect is the coordination. What could have been seen in the past was the coordination of the campaign being done by party leaders, while with the progression of time and technologies, more and more external consultants have been hired. Today, a modern campaign is practically unimaginable without professional consultants and special party campaign units. Moreover, the feedback is provided by regular opinion polls, focus groups and interactive digital media compared to local canvassing and party meetings that were the main tools of feedback in the past.

The role of media has also drastically changed – from political parties informing their voters by partisan press to television broadcasts (meant for a broad audience) or narrowcasts (created for a specific, narrow audience). All of this leads to higher campaign costs nowadays while the political parties and candidates battle for voters in times of the partisan dealignment. Compared to the past, characteristic by stable social and partisan alignments, voters nowadays are much less tied to political parties.

Afterwards, Dominika speaks about three steps in marketing – segmentation, targeting and positioning.

Open source intelligence's role in campaigns, opposition research and negative advertisements

Open source intelligence (OSINT) can be characterized as all the data and information that is available to the general public, which can be television, printed media, websites, social media, etc. The benefit of this data is that it is of a relatively low-cost when it comes to acquiring the data, but at the same time due to the information overload, human resources are needed to make sense of this data.

Open source data has a special place in political campaigns, because it offers vital insights during all three phases of campaigns. For instance, during the segmentation and targeting phases, social media can help identify different types of voters and their opinions. Concerning the positioning, social media analytics can accompany television, radio and Internet monitoring to evaluate the feedback to the party or candidate and serves as a complement to, for example, focus groups or opinion polls.

However, Dominika explains that when it comes to social media, it needs to be borne in mind that the social media users that we see commenting on posts, for instance on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, are the minority of voters. The majority is either silent on social media or not even present there. Therefore, we need to be aware that it is just a segment of our voters or even paid automated bots.

OSINT also plays a crucial role in opposition research, which can be understood as finding the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. It is often used in negative political campaigns aimed towards opponents that have been done since at least 1930s.

Dominika speaks about negative advertisements and plays the most famous negative ad aired in 1964 that is called “Daisy”.

Differences between the practices in the USA and Europe

As you are for sure aware, in Europe we have the general data protection regulation, or GDPR. This could prevent businesses or political parties to store the data obtained by monitoring of social media, so you always need to check with your national laws.

Dominika speaks about the main differences between the USA and Europe, mainly with regards to the data about voters that can be accessed. She explains what “voters files” are and that they are often combined with external databases in the USA and the Cambridge Analytica scandal is mentioned.

In the context of possibilities in Europe, the importance of aggregate data guaranteeing the anonymity of the data subjects is elaborated on. Dominika explains how they can be obtained, combined and utilized during contact campaigns.

COVID-19 and elections - what is next?

How does the Coronavirus pandemic impact the electoral process? Upcoming elections will be specific with regards to more aspects. One of the possibility that we could observe is that some national governments might try to postpone the elections.

In case elections happen as scheduled, strict distancing and hygiene standards will need to take place leading to more space and efforts dedicated to the digitalization (of parts) of the electoral process. Moreover, current governments will be under scrutiny based on how they have managed the Coronavirus crisis. Have they introduced safety measures in time? What is the death rate in the country? Has the government provided economical help to businesses impacted by the pandemic? Have human rights of the citizens been violated while trying to supress the spread of the virus?

At the end of the presentation, Dominika showcased SAIL LABS’ Media Mining System that offers undeniable benefits when it comes to media monitoring and social media analytics. Afterwards, Q & A session starts. 

In case you are interested in COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories and Fake News circulating in the media and their exploitation by extremists, download our White Paper dedicated to this topic. The detailed report includes details about the 5G conspiracy theory, #filmyourhospital initiative and the usage of Coronavirus-related Fake News and conspiracy theories being used by far-right groups and islamic extremism.

If you missed the webinar, you can watch it below.