With the ever-increasing modus in which social media tools are empowering all sectors of society, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in partnership with the national broadcaster have launched a dashboard to scrutinise South Africa’s diverse online sentiment.
As the country took to the polls in its fifth democratic municipals elections, the system was hard at work deciphering just what was happening online.
Essentially the system is a large-scale app that calculates analytics and creates visualizations that helps SABC journalists identify the most important issues and players around political discussions from a social media perspective.
In a snapshot taken at 16:30 tweets about the Economic Freedom Fighters (#VoteEFF) dominated at 636 mentions in the last hour. While #VoteANC logged 120 mentions and #IEC 75 mentions in the same period.
While there was a general sense of malaise and apathy from the youth towards local politics in elections past – social media, the electioneering of celebrities and the ability of social media to engage politicians directly has re-energised the voting public.
It is well documented that social media and politics have been strange bedfellows and wielding it is a double edged sword. While it can give a second political life to a once-exiled youth leader it can just as easily mock and ridicule those already celebrated in the public eye – as one party leader found out this past weekend.
Speaking to SABC at the IEC results centre in Pretoria, data scientist Nyalleng Moorosi explains that the system was built using a number of Open Source tools and as such there was no significant cost for any special software used in the development.
Speaking about the timeliness of tools such as these, Moorosi says: “While apps like Twitter provides the platform for important discussions to take place in a public forum; tools like ours allow anyone – politicians and journalists in this case – better understand the mood and concerns of their electorate. It is a way of holding one’s representative accountable in a virtual sense.”
Developers of the programme, who put the programme through its paces in a test run were keen to point out that external factors – like online security and language can also impact final data outcomes.
Dr Vukosi Marivate, one of the researchers on the project warned about fake social media posts and just as it had a negative impact in the real world, it also skewed the way data is assessed and collated online.
“Just as we should be responsible citizens in our real lives we should also emulate those values in the digital world as well. Like any responsibility it must be respected.”
Marivate says that they had taken technology buffs who wanted to experiment with a public version of the tool into account. It’s available for download here.
Users familiar with tweeting will know that using a different case structure in spelling out a hashtag also have an impact on how it is grouped in data capturing software like the one developed by the data science team at the CSIR’s Modelling and Digital Science Unit.
The CSIR’s work – to their credit – often goes unnoticed in projects that involve anything from nanotechnology and synthetic biology to areas of national governance like elections and crisis event management. The Council’s input can next best be appreciated when its work in sports technology aides Team South Africa in bringing home gold at the Rio Olympics in August.