Cabaero: Determining public sentiment | SunStar

Cabaero: Determining public sentiment

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Cabaero: Determining public sentiment

Saturday, October 08, 2016

A POLL conducted on social media or the comments of the public posted on Facebook or Twitter might not be the best ways to evaluate the performance of a leadership.

Such a poll might work well with grading a hotel stay or an experience at an international buffet, but not on how local or national government officials performed in the first 100 days of their terms. Did they move in the directions they declared during their campaign stops? Have the first steps toward fulfilling their promises been made? Are their priorities consistent with what they said before they got elected?

When government officials say they would rather let the public decide on their first 100 days’ performance, they meant leaving the assessment of their work to the public. Not through any formal survey or by a grading body, but the public. Let them be the judge. And the usual places where people converge to hold conversations nowadays are on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It is easy to find in social media networks the conversations about what is happening in government, the price of cooking fuel, the sense of security on the streets. Someone posts the news about a road closure, people react by posting comments or those funny depictions called memes.

Social media is an effective venue for discussion because it connects groups of people who share relations or interests, and they can type in their comments on reactions immediately, at any time, and from anywhere. Their posts can be read right away by friends or followers.

But something happened to social media before the elections last May, and it continues into the present. Social media became a cesspool of abuse with trolls and online comments that insult, lambast, wish harm on others. A troll is slang for a person who sows discord online, according to the Collins English Dictionary. The person starts arguments or upsets people by posting nasty, inflammatory, or off-topic messages on a website, blog, social media account, to provoke readers into an emotional response or to disrupt the discussion, often for their own amusement.

So-called keyboard warriors gave rise to online comments for or against their candidates in the weeks leading to the elections. And it was known that bots were used in the campaign. Bots are robots that are activated with the use of a keyword or phrase online. When a newspaper columnist criticizes a candidate, a computer robot detects this and automatically, without human intervention, sends out a retort in the comments section. Fake accounts and fake websites were also created to put forward certain positions.

With these characteristics of social media, it is difficult to use the platform to accurately determine public sentiment. It can give an indication of the general response, but this open sphere is being populated by messages that intend to stifle exchange and control the discussion for or against a position. Then everything becomes muddled.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 09, 2016.

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