Data Mining the Electorate

Obama Data Mining Team

The New York Times Magazine had a cover piece on the Obama data mining team that used modern data-mining techniques to more efficiently target the undecided voters that they needed to bring across the fence to win the election. Check out the last line (emphasis mine) on their clever use of Facebook photo tags as a way to further refine their targeting to determine who your real friends were. If they identified any of your close friends as potential voters that were on their “undecided” list, they would then put them on a list of friends for you to ask to vote for Obama.

They started with a list that grew to a million people who had signed into the campaign Web site through Facebook. When people opted to do so, they were met with a prompt asking to grant the campaign permission to scan their Facebook friends lists, their photos and other personal information. In another prompt, the campaign asked for access to the users’ Facebook news feeds, which 25 percent declined, St. Clair said.

Once permission was granted, the campaign had access to millions of names and faces they could match against their lists of persuadable voters, potential donors, unregistered voters and so on. “It would take us 5 to 10 seconds to get a friends list and match it against the voter list,” St. Clair said. They found matches about 50 percent of the time, he said. But the campaign’s ultimate goal was to deputize the closest Obama-supporting friends of voters who were wavering in their affections for the president. “We would grab the top 50 you were most active with and then crawl their wall” to figure out who were most likely to be their real-life friends, not just casual Facebook acquaintances. St. Clair, a former high-school marching-band member who now wears a leather Diesel jacket, explained: “We asked to see photos but really we were looking for who were tagged in photos with you, which was a really great way to dredge up old college friends — and ex-girlfriends,” he said.

Data You Can Believe In

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