The protesters who have taken to America’s streets didn’t see it coming, few in the media predicted it, and most of the pollsters got it wrong.
But a small software company in Cape Town, South Africa predicted Donald Trump’s win. And they called the British exit from the European Union too.
“Because Trump was such controversial figure, we had a suspicion that how he was resonating with people might be different from what traditional media was saying,” says Jean Pierre Kloppers, the CEO of DataEQ.
Like regular pollsters, DataEQ focused on key battleground states. But they’re not a polling company. Their day job is to track real-time social media sentiment for companies like Pizza Hut and Uber.
Companies, and some governments, pay DataEQ to alert them to significant swings in sentiment to put out fires and identify opportunities. Turns out politicians are like brands.
Using social media to track sentiment
Starting in July 2016, their machines used artificial intelligence (AI) to pull messages from social media feeds relevant to the US presidential campaign, primarily mentions of Hillary Clinton or Trump.
DataEQ then put the word out to crowdsource human analysis of individual messages.
“We use people for what people are good at and machines for what machines are great at. And by using that interplay between the two, we are able to measure sentiment very deeply and by using computers we measure very deeply,” says Kloppers.
While AI is great for pulling in vast amounts of relevant data, it still struggles with sarcasm, innuendo and colloquial language.
They earn a few cents for each tweet they verify, earning around the same amount a waiter would for a day’s work, says Kloppers.
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