Winning friends, influencing people, and measuring it — 2019 election style

Australia had an election this weekend. The result — reelection of the Coalition Government — ran counter to many predictions. In fact, one betting agency even paid punters on the result two days before the election — a multi-million dollar mistake, given that they got the result wrong! Understandably, many people have asked how the polls got it so wrong, so I was interested to see this article on the topic in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The article talks mainly about the role of social media in the election. The idea of using social media to predict events or analyze an election isn’t new, but the Australian angle is interesting.

Given that Australian opinion polls, which had always been based on landline phone numbers mapped to the electoral roll, seem to be struggling in a post-landline world, it’s worth thinking about better ways to gauge sentiment. Social media gives us one option, although there are plenty of caveats, including filtering the real from the fake, and the fact that it’s only really possible to analyze public social media posts.

It’s also interesting to read the comments in the article on the different social media methods that the two major contenders in the election used, with an observation that the Liberal Party of Australia (the larger party in the Coalition) had been much more effective in engaging users with its online content that the Opposition party, the Australian Labor Party.

Australian universities make global news – but not in a good way 

Australian universities have an impressive international reputation. I’m always excited when I see that the Australian National University, where I studied, is a lot more than a local university in my hometown.

Unfortunately, this week the Australian university system has also shown itself to have a dark side, with an Australian Human Rights Commission report finding that:

Around half of all university students (51%) were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, and 6.9% of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016. A significant proportion of the sexual harassment experienced by students in 2015 and 2016 occurred in university settings.

This has made the news internationally, for example in The New York Times. The Australian universities are conspicuously responding to the report, with a range of different measures, including mandatory training that is being proposed by a number of institutions. I received an email this morning from the Vice-Chancellor at ANU, which was sent to alumni.Hopefully, the Australia’s university population can build a sustained effort, beyond the immediate news headlines, to repair campus culture. And while the international press has been reporting the Australian news, unfortunately, this is much more than an Australian problem as demonstrated, for example, by this US report from 2015.