The Nigerian political space is heating up ahead of its March general elections. In a race most prominently contested by the ruling PDP and the main opposition party – APC, a local consulting firm has set out to “get a feel of who might possibly win the country’s presidential election.”
The firm, Sterling & Greenback is using an in-house tool they call Brandseeker to conduct a sentiment analysis of discussions around and about the presidential election that is ongoing over the internet.
“[We] developed a windows service that uses Twitter’s API to retrieve tweets related to the Nigerian presidential elections. The algorithm selects only tweets which were generated within the borders of Nigeria,” said S&G’s Obi Igbokwe in an email conversation with TechCabal.
According to Obi, their algorithm is able to discern sarcasm, examine retweets, and look at the whole context to determine the sentiment.
Sentiment analysis has been around for a while, but it’s also received its fair share of criticism. In 2012, USA Today partnered with Twitter analytics platform, Topsy to provide a sentiment score for the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Marc Smith, a local sociologist notably criticized the exercise, claiming the data was “remarkably poor”. He argued that extracting meaningful information from social network is more complicated than measuring “the noise of the crowd”.
A lot of the online conversation around Nigeria’s elections is happening on Twitter. But, not all of it. BrandSeeker doesn’t analyse data from Facebook and other social networks. This is significant because of the recurring question of whether Twitter conversation is truly representative of the broad conversations on social subjects.
“Most academic papers agree that it is sufficient,” Obi says. “Twitter unlike most of the other, does not require you to ask the permission of users to mine their messages. Facebook does not even allow third parties search status updates of users because of privacy reasons.”
It was revealed in 2014 that Facebook privacy concerns or no, the company is not above using the data from users of the platform for sociological experiments. But the ethics of such activity aside, they would hardly make such information available to agencies like Obi’s.
BrandSeeker also analyses political issues and the sentiment on a state by state basis. Obi thinks this could provide veritable intelligence for party campaign teams. “The data we have have out on the site would probably make more sense to political analysts,” Obi explains, “for instance, if you were in the Buhari camp and your team was going to campaign in Ondo State, the data shows that Health is the most talked about political issue there. It would thus make more sense to focus more on how to improve health services than job creation, which is the number one issue in Anambra.”
The data available on the website at the time of this writing is interesting enough. If the algorithm is to be believed, the ruling PDP has 1.82% national penetration against the opposition APC’s 15.98%. Another interesting datapoint is that corruption is the most discussed political issue, ahead of security, jobs and economy.
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