An enterprising group of ten volunteers at IIT-B, which created a research tool in November with the specific purpose of trawling tens of thousands of social media posts to measure public opinion, has helped shape the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) election strategy in the Delhi assembly election, which was held on Saturday.
Party leaders told Mumbai Mirror that the program, designed to perform “sentiment analysis” helped veer AAP’s campaign away from issues that were deemed “negative” by the electorate, and towards such concerns as women’s safety, which, data revealed, was consonant with voter sentiment in the nation’s capital.
The algorithm developed by the IIT-B group sifted through the language that constituted thousands of tweets to assess reactions to specific issues. It was also employed to determine the swing in the electorate’s sentiment towards AAP at any given point of time.
“The program runs a word analysis on a database of many thousands of twitter handles and categorises people’s responses to particular events or issues as negative, weakly negative, neutral, weakly positive, or positive,” said Divyank Agarwal, a fourth year student of Engineering Physics who was in the team that built the tool. “Three or four volunteers would look over the scan manually and the results would be communicated with the Delhi office for them to fine tune their strategy.”
Agarwal, a devotee of AAP, and three other IIT-B students skipped classes to campaign in Delhi for more than a week in the run up to the elections. “I haven’t told my parents that I bunked classes and even an exam to go door-todoor campaigning in Delhi’s jhuggis,” he confessed. “I’m not sure how they’ll react.”
Arvind Kejriwal after casting his vote
According to research scholar Ratikant Nayak, one of those who forsook classes to work for the party in Delhi, scores of students at IIT-B became beholden to AAP’s ideology during its Mumbai North East Lok Sabha candidate Medha Patkar’s unsuccessful run last year. “The booth inside IIT was the only one from which Patkar won,” he said. A Facebook group of the party’s supporters in the campus exceeds 1,000 members.
India has over 100 million Facebook users and 33 million people on twitter, digital bulletin boards on which views and proclivities are freely and emphatically expressed, and that formed the engine of AAP’s game plan. “Analysis of social media has played a major role in how we have allocated funds in our manifesto,” said senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia. “For instance, the majority of inputs on education and regarding free WiFi (a poll promise the party made in Delhi) came through social media. Sentiment analysis of social media particularly helped us understand the specific demands of women.”
Preeti Sharma Menon, former Maharashtra state secretary of AAP, who played an important role in the social media campaign for the Delhi elections, said IIT-B volunteers performed a critical role in fashioning the party’s response to voter sentiment in Delhi. “The feedback they provided framed vital turning points in the campaign,” she said. “The importance of social media lies in introducing a new thought or perspective. While everything we spoke about became part of the poll agenda, the BJP, on the other hand, was unable to introduce a single new thought that would get echoed by opinion makers in the press.”