The 2013 Australian Federal Election has already been coined the ‘Social Media Election’, but even savvy users who frequently turn to social media platforms to track trending political issues may have been surprised by last week’s announcement that Yahoo!7 and Seven News were partnering with Facebook to provide unique insights into Australian opinions on the election. Unlike Twitter, which is known as a public forum, many users view Facebook as a more ‘private’ or ‘restricted’ space for sharing content. We wondered whether this partnership may see individual users’ status updates shared on news broadcasts, and decided to investigate.

How will the collaboration work?

The partnership will use insights from active political conversations happening on Facebook, by monitoring the 12 million active local users’ Likes, Shares, comments and engagement with political Pages. These insights will then be translated to numerical data to be used in Seven News coverage as well as across the Yahoo!7 network. For example, the first insight published on Facebook earlier this week stated that there had been an “1800% increase in mentions of Kevin Rudd versus a 3271% increase in mentions of Tony Abbott this past week”. Facebook formed a similar partnership with CNN last year to cover the US election.

Can Facebook do this?

According to Facebook’s Data Use Policy, Facebook is allowed to share and publish this user information if it has:

  • received your permission;
  • given you notice, such as by telling you about it in its policy; or
  • removed your name or any other personally identifying information from it.

Facebook says it also puts together data from the information it has about you, but that it only provides data to its advertising partners or customers after it has removed your name or any other personally identifying information from it, or has combined it with other people’s data in a way that it is no longer associated with you. The first insight published involves only numerical data, with no personally identifying user information, so Facebook’s conduct appears consistent with its policy.

However, Facebook users beware! If you choose to make your information public by ticking the ‘public’ option in the drop box of a status, then Facebook considers this information “Everyone Information”, and anyone, including people who are not on Facebook, will be able to see it. To prevent your name (or personally identifiable information) being splashed over a public medium, including Seven News’ election coverage, always ensure that the “Friends” or even “Friends except Acquaintances” option is selected when preparing a Facebook Post. [Eds: Facebook also offers an “Only me” option, although we are not sure who would select this, given Facebook is supposed to be a “social” network]

What can we expect for the future of federal elections? With Facebook recently revealing that it plans to sell TV style advertising (at a measly $USD1m for a 15-second spot or $US2.5 million a day), perhaps by 2016, our attempts to browse the latest weekend gossip will be interrupted by 15-second political campaigns taking over our newsfeeds.