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First POST: Big Bad Data

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, November 4 2014

Big Bad Data

  • Facebook is pushing its "voter megaphone" out to all of its more than 150 million adult users in the United States, and here at techPresident, we're asking for your help tracking how the tool is deployed.

  • Why big data is bad for political prognostication: In the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Thomas Gilbert and Andrew Loveridge have an absolutely brilliant critique of the new data-driven journalism exemplified by "explainers" like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver. They write,

    The real problem with our media wasn’t that it was bad at predicting elections (although it was)—it’s that it spends so much time on predicting elections at all, as opposed to moderating and shaping a national debate on what is at stake at the ballot box. Statisticians like Silver have helped eliminate bias when it comes to election prognostication, but there hasn’t been a similar commitment to eliminating the bias of spurious political narratives peddled by major media outlets. This leaves data journalism in the unfortunate position of helping to predict our electoral choices without evaluating their significance and pointing to alternatives.

  • Why big data is bad for politics: New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that "As politics has gotten more scientific, the campaigns have gotten worse, especially for the candidates who overly on these techniques." His larger point: voters don't just think like members of a niche, they are also "thinking as Americans" and "looking quality of leadership, character, vision and solidarity that defies quantification."

  • Democrats and progressive groups have registered more than 2.3 million new voters using NGP VAN tools, the political technology vendor tweeted today. And they made 386.9 million voter contacts, 68% more than in 2010, the company reports.

  • An analysis of the content shared since July by more than 20 million Facebook users related to today's midterm elections generates some fascinating pictures of what drives local conversations about politics. According to this fascinating charticle by Dante Chinni, Natalie Andrews and Matt Stiles of the Wall Street Journal, people in Wisconsin are most worried about jobs and employment security; income inequality drives the most conversations in the Rust Belt; southern border states are driven more by immigration worries; and the environment and climate change are mostly issues of concern where extractive industries aren't well represented.

    Here's the top topics people are searching for on Google when they look up candidates for U.S. Senate. Knowing how old a candidate is and their marital status is apparently of great interest.

  • We're not really sure why anyone would want to know how much the 2014 candidates for Congress and governors' offices follow each other on Twitter, but in case you were wondering, here's an interactive chart from Twitter showing the "web of influence."

  • Fight for the Future, the open internet advocacy group, is angry as what it sees as President Obama's failure to fight for real net neutrality. So, in an email sent by co-founder Holmes Wilson, the group is taking off the gloves and calling on its members to work to defeat five Democratic senatorial candidates--Kay Hagan of NC, Mark Begich of AK, Jeanne Shaheen of NH, Mary Landrieu of LA, Mark Pryor of AR--that the group sees as too beholden to the cable lobby. Details here.

  • On Greenpeace's Mobilisation Lab, Jason Tashea reports on the continued progress of Loomio, the group decision-making tool.

  • The new head of Britain's spy agency, GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, says that major tech firms are "in denial" about how the privacy enhancements they are adding to their products are making them the "command and control networks of choice" for terrorists, Ben Quinn, James Ball and Dominic Rushe report for the Guardian.

  • Lawyers for former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg wanted to make sure that they locked up all the possible .nyc URLs that might refer to him, so they bought 400 of them. Including "," "" and "," reports Colin Campbell for Business Insider.

  • While you are waiting for the official 2014 election results to be compiled, you can amuse yourself looking at this old 2004 election results page from the State of Delaware. (h/t Serdar Tumgoren of the NICAR-L list)

  • BlogHer, the women's blogging network, has been acquired by SheKnows, a digital publishing company focused on women. According to Ad Age's Michael Sebastian, "a person familiar with the matter said the deal is worth between $30 and $40 million."