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Electoral context


Since the 2008 presidential campaign in the United States, Brazil has been anxiously expecting its 2010 elections hoping to find out who would be this nation’s Barack Obama? That is, which of the candidates to succeed Lula could effectively mobilize voters through social media?


The question makes sense given the growing presence of the voters on the Web. Technological progress, fast data processing, networked communication tools and simple interfaces: these are variables that, combined, allow the expansion of a structure capable of connecting users with ease, and of making them willing to create, share, rate and recommend digital content.


But this web of information, which can be seen with hope by those who value public debate and the fortification of democracy, also carries some distrust and suppositions. After all, it is also possible to see it being used only for the sake of numbers. Entertainment generating audience, which favors advertising formats, for instance.


With that, any assessment regarding the use of social media in the election process, by both voters and campaign strategists, was difficult to qualify. With the end of the election, one of the recurrent impressions is: the Internet has seen its decentralized systems filled by rumors and lies, leaving debate or outreach efforts in the background.


Was it solely that? Why not take advantage of a consistent database, comprising of a significant sampling of content disseminated on the most popular Internet tools, to verify this and other hypotheses? More than that: what about analyzing these data to seek patterns, origins, and thus information flows? This is NeoFluxo’s mission.


What is NeoFluxo?


The NeoFluxo project, elaborated by the Communication, Technology and Network Culture Research Group (Teccred) from Casper Libero School, with the support of CNPq, was born in the first half of 2010. Its main aim is to identify the behavior of information flow in social networking websites during the Brazilian election process.


At first, the proposal was to monitor all messages related to the two major presidential candidates (Jose Serra / PSDB and Dilma Rousseff / PT) published by their official sources (on Twitter, Facebook and the candidates’ websites) and quoted on Twitter by public profiles. With the growth of Marina Silva / PV at the end of the first vote, mentions of her name were also collected and stored in databases, using software built for this purpose.


Data collection was made according to certain keywords determined by the researchers, with reference to proposals presented at the biggest showcase of the electoral campaign in Brazil, where debate is proposed with greater strength: the electoral TV shows. To identify the information flow and determine which messages and guidance from the candidates influenced discussions and points of view, NeoFluxo used Twitter as a base.


Both the keywords selected by the researchers and the material collected from candidate’s official sources allow the mapping of the system: where is the starting point of a particular message, its path and how it was redistributed through Twitter.


Environment: Twitter


Although created in 2006, Twitter saw its user base grow from the end of 2008 onwards, becoming the most popular "microblogging" tool on the Web. Besides having features of a social networking website (users can create profiles and interact with others, creating connections and strengthening ties), Twitter may be used for different purposes.


Given this versatility, Twitter is mostly used to share and disseminate information. In addition to its ease of use and speed of its short messages, a sampling of Twitter’s environment can be considered adequate enough to observe the publishing of content related to the electoral process. The growing number of new members, including candidates, campaigners and supporters (spontaneously or not) reinforces this choice.


The choice of this tool also represents a technical advantage: Twitter’s open API allows external developers to create standalone programs that incorporate their services - for example, scanning and collecting data published in public profiles.


Campaign schedule


Although the Internet has been accredited as the “novelty to behold” during this election, since for the first time any citizen could use its tools to express themselves, the electoral TV shows remain as candidates’ business cards. It is on TV that strategists and marketers seek to showcase the topics they aim to be discussed by voters - personally or through social networking websites.


This was the criteria defined by the NeoFluxo project to determine information flows. In addition to tracking content published by the official channels, the system made comparisons with terms determined by the researchers. Ten words or expressions were selected for each TV show, per candidate. The choice of words was processed by an adaptation of news value criteria:


  • Continuity
  • Repetition
  • Controversy / conflict
  • Novelty
  • Dramatization

This process was maintained during the runoff vote campaign, but the researchers decided to include a new data collection source: the media scheduling. Twitter messages containing keywords extracted from the four major Web portals in Brazil (UOL, Terra, iG and G1) were stored. This and other data tables form the backbone of NeoFluxo: after collecting and organizing data, you can create applications that can compare them and establish relationships.


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NeoFluxo by http://www.neofluxo.net is licensed under a Creative Commons Atribuição-Uso Não-Comercial-Compatilhamento pela mesma licença License. Based on a work at www.neofluxo.net