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13 Oct 2022, 1110 hrs

The Use of Big Data in Political Communication

The digital footprints left behind on social media platforms, search engines and discussion forums contribute to Big Data knowing more about you than you know yourself. Governments, companies and political campaigns are mining this data across platforms to better target and engage their audiences. Combined with statistical tools, it is possible to pinpoint and accurately predict the behavioural patterns of individuals and voters. How can you use Big Data to your advantage and what are the ethical issues in regards to its collection and usage?

Incorporating Big Data approaches can help generate critical insight and improve the ability of governments and media to help the public at large but ethical issues in collection, storage and usage of Big Data still loom large, panelists at the second Asian Conference for Political Communication (ACPC) stated.

The second ACPC was the biggest gathering of communication experts in academia, politics and government in Asia and the Pacific, bringing together over 200 participants from over 40 countries.

The panelists discussed the use of Big Data in political communication, which they said was integral in gaining insight on voter behaviour; finding beneficiaries for government sponsored social schemes and for affecting social change at the grassroots level. 

#SaferRoadsPH was one such example of a grassroots level online campaign which aimed to promote policies protecting road users in the Philippines by combining data journalism with online and offline community engagement, Filipino multimedia journalist Aika Rey said.

Ms Rey spearheaded the campaign, which she said led to positive policy change at the local level, when she worked at online Philippine news site Rappler.

The availability of Big Data has also greatly expanded opportunities to study society and human behaviour through the prism of computational analysis, said Dr Han Woo Park, who heads a research lab called “Big Local Big Pulse” at YeungNam University, South Korea.

Dr Han discussed his team’s recent research projects, one of which examined Google Trends data collected during the recent South Korean presidential elections held in 2022 using network analysis and correlational analysis.

Dr Han highlighted the key issues that were debated most during the recent presidential elections in South Korea which included: political polarisation, gender equality, political differentiation based on regionalism.

Dr Stefan Hennewig from Christian Democratic Union, Germany also discussed Big Data analytics and drew contrasts between how elderly voters are targeted in Germany versus how they are targeted in India.

Also discussing Big Data for political communication were Mr Andreas Klein, Director of KAS’ Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia and Mr Kapil Parmar, National Head of Social Media & IT of the Youth Wing of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mr Kapil said that Big Data had helped the government in India identify beneficiaries for government schemes and to create useful data links such as ones meant for blood donation drives. He, however, added that data “has to be used in conjunction with insights from your groundwork”.

Further, Ms Rey sounded a note of warning about personal data uploaded on the internet, which she said can “always be used against journalists”.

“We have been using data to inform our stories. But we have seen that data can also be used against journalists. Data is now being used to malign fact checkers” Ms Rey said.

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Multimedia Journalist, Philippines
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Political Dialogue Asia
Yeungnam University, South Korea
Bharatiya Janata Party - Youth Wing, India
Christian Democratic Union, Germany