The Intersection of Social Media and Politics: How UConn’s Social Media Analytics Command Center has been handling the 2020 election

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Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holds hands with President-elect Joe Biden and her husband Doug Emhoff as they celebrate in Wilmington, Del. One week after the election, and the Trump administration has failed to cooperate with Bidens transition. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

The University of Connecticut’s Social Media Analytics Command Center (SMACC) has been reporting on the election since June and they plan to continue coverage until early spring, according to John Murphy, Social Media Analytics Command Center director and UConn assistant professor in-residence.  

SMACC received a grant to cover the election, Murphy said. With the help of digital media and design undergraduates, the center uses multiple social media analytics programs to find social media conversations regarding the election and key political topics. From there, they can analyze the content and try to predict future outcomes, including who they think people are going to ultimately vote for.   

“We are looking at the volume of conversation regarding one candidate or the other and the sentiment of that candidate,” he said. “Volume, passion, engagement and feelings are key things we are looking for.”  

Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the majority of the campaigning and political conversations to be moved to social media platforms, social media has become an important factor in this election, Murphy said. Considering the recent news of President Trump not officially recognizing the incoming Biden administration, this election cycle is like no other.  

“We don’t expect it to be a normal transition period,” Murphy said. “We continue to cover it. This is a very unique election for us.”  

On election night, SMACC aired a live YouTube broadcast where they shared their social media analysis and predictions, Murphy said.  

Before the broadcast, the team prepared by using their social media analytics programs to bring in all public conservations from social media, websites and broadcasts, Murphy said. By creating a special inquiry based on keywords like “Black Lives Matter,” “COVID-19” and/or “fake news,” the team can determine how people are thinking.  

“We would then look out how people feel about those topics, the demographics, whether they are male, female and their age, what channels are speaking on, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, others,” Murphy said. “What is the volume of the conversation? Are they engaging in their content? That tells us a lot.”   

During their broadcast, SMACC worked to predict who was going to win the election and how the swing states would vote as the polls were just starting to close, Murphy said. He said SMACC correctly predicted that President-elect Biden would win the electoral college and the popular vote, as well as calling the swing states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin for Biden.  

Murphy said a broadcast, where the digital media and design undergraduates acted as a panel, was the best way to speak “quickly and precisely to the audience.” Murphy acted as a moderator and asked the students questions.  

Murphy said he knew the electoral college was going to be tight and that there might not be an official prediction by election night.  

“It was stressful because the information from the actual voter count comes in slowly,” he said.  “We believed our data was right. As each day went by, it was verified, but it was a long three or four days.” 

In addition to the predictions, the digital media and design undergraduates working at SMACC were tasked with looking at the live data on the social media analytics platforms and creating an informative tweet showing people’s thoughts on Election Day. Murphy said this was key, as it showed the undergraduates were learning how to look at the platform, find what is important, understand it and present it in a way so others can understand it as well.  

For example, one of the tweets said, “Vice President @JoeBiden has gathered an extreme amount of “love” sentiment from the social media audience, since the start of #ElectionDay sentiment for @JoeBiden has gone up exponentially.”  

A graphical representation of the sentiments towards Joe Biden exhibited on Social Media. Originally tweeted by UConn SMACC (@UConnSMACC) on November 4, 2020.

On Wednesday, SMACC began analyzing the election’s aftermath, including looking into how the nearly seventy two million Trump voters are feeling, Murphy said.  

“We feel there is going to be so much news,” Murphy said. “There will be a lot to cover here because everyone is going to be on social media talking about wherever they like it or don’t like it.”  

According to Murphy, SMACC will continue to post their research on their website, as social media, and the ability to analyze it, has become increasingly important.  

“Those who understand the power of social media and how to leverage it have a better chance to win an election,” Murphy said.  

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