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MIT Media Lab uses 'Electome' to track political discourse

Still looking for a way to make sense of the current political season? MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines has created Electome, an analytics tool that tracks election conversation. Dubbed a “social machine,” Electome uses technology to “make sense of semantic and social patterns across the broad span of public mass media, social media, data streams, and digital content,” according to MIT Media Lab’s website.

The aim, said Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab and a keynote speaker at Boston’s recent FutureM conference,  is to get a deeper look at the conversations people are having about the election and “make the discussion around what people are talking about instead of about who will win.”

To do this analysis, Ito said some 5,000-6,000 news stories and 500 million tweets are being pushed through Electome every day.

One interesting point about this election that Electome helped to uncover, Ito relayed, was that Hillary Clinton, although she is former Secretary of State, “is associated more with the economy than with national security and foreign policy.” Donald Trump, on the other hand, “who is a business person, is extremely connected to foreign policy and national security,” he added.

Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab.

Electome is also used to see what the followers of each presidential candidate are talking about in order to draw distinctions and identify any similarities among voters.

“When the Orlando attack happened, we were looking at conversations on Twitter, and guns were a really important topic,” Ito said, but supporters of the candidates did not interpret the event in the same way. “Clinton followers tend to talk about gun issues and LGBT issues, whereas the Trump followers framed it around terrorism.”

Some of the negative political discussions seen online are also coming from sources in Russia, according to Ito.

An agency in Russia, [composed] of thousands of trolls, that are paid for by the government, go around and spew negative stuff,” Ito said. The 2016 presidential election has recently and repeatedly been targeted by Russian hackers who have stirred up trouble through data leaks and data breaches. These Russian trolls are most likely the individuals who are currently targeting the presidential election, Ito said.

Indeed, for the first time, the Obama administration last week officially accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee and interfering with the presidential election. According to the Washington Post, Russia could face an array of possible penalties including indictments, economic sanctions and the ejection of Russian diplomats from the U.S.