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How has machine learning impacted the US elections?

Politicians may not be getting smarter but social media is…

Topic: Economy

For some of us, the US elections has felt like something similar to mass hysteria. We’ve seen some very questionable ideas gain traction and given serious air-time across major news networks (my personal favourite: ‘global warming was invented by the Chinese’). We’ve seen candidates eat bacon off machine guns, attack war veterans and even refer to voters as a ‘basket of deplorables’.

Now that it’s all over and we have a new President-elect, we can reflect on how it all got so strange and consider some of the factors that led to such a polarised political landscape.

Echo Chambers

Whatever your political opinion, few can argue that the way we publish and digest political dialogue has changed a lot since Obama won his first US election. Sixty two per cent of Americans now get news on social media and, whilst it provides a wealth of new sources of insight, it has also fogged up our online windscreen to the world by serving us these insights according to our own tastes and opinions.

Research suggests that websites such as Facebook or Twitter can quite easily become ‘echo-chambers’ of information that block out anything conflicting with an online community’s own beliefs. Think about the Brexit bus with the ‘£350 million a week to the EU’ emblazoned on its side: by the time it had proven to be a lie, it was too late: online communities had already absorbed it as a fact.

It’s great to know that if I go online to listen to music, some sites will remember my preference for 80’s gems and continue to serve up classic Duran Duran tracks but what happens when this filtering impacts news sites and search engines?

In this case I’m not just talking about some of the false election information floating around Twitter (such as pro-Trump adverts encouraging Clinton supporters to ‘vote by text message’) but the wider reaching impact of search engine bias. One researcher found that, by putting links for one candidate above another in a rigged search he could even impact voting by up to 12%.

Fortunately, it looks like the internet is fighting back. At the height of the campaign, we saw the rise of ‘fact-checker’ apps – algorithms that connect fact-checking articles with live news stories. This means that every time a politician made a claim, it showed the viewer information either supporting or discrediting the claim.

Tools are also in development that will be able to tell the difference between a human or a troll bot, which is good news for us but not for @amrightnow with its 33,000 followers and its computer generated tweets being sent out 50 times a day.

And if you’re having a slow day at work and fancy a laugh, have a look at one of the many websites growing in popularity that publish politicians’ deleted tweets. Just don’t laugh too hard: we all know how that ended for those girls in Tanzania.

So what happens next?

With the development of this new online technology, we may be able to get past this ugly phase of political evolution, but until this happens, we’ll have to make a more concerted effort to hunt out unbiased information.

At Investec our experienced economists, analysts and researchers have looked closely at both sides of the debate and answered questions such as: why is the senate so pivotal to this debate? What impact will this have for investors? What impact will this have on interest rates? If you haven’t already had the chance to review our pre-election videos click here now and read our response to the election results here.

Opinions given within this article are my own personal views. My views and opinions are effective from the date of publication but may be subject to change without notice. I have no affiliation with the companies mentioned in this piece and all research has been independent.

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