Google I/O 2016: Tracking The Election Through GDELT / Reddit / Wikipedia

In their lively and fast-paced Google I/O 2016 talk, Felipe Hoffa and Jordan Tigani trace mainstream and social media coverage of the 2016 US presidential election through the eyes of GDELT and several other datasets.

One particularly striking graph is the timeline below, showing the intensity of mentions of Bernie Sanders in the mainstream media (via GDELT), social media (using Reddit as a proxy) and Wikipedia page views (given that Wikipedia page views are frequently used as a proxy for public interest).


What makes this timeline so powerful is the fact that mainstream media so closely tracks Reddit social coversation and Wikipedia views. This is especially noteworthy given the common claim that social media unilaterally "beats the news" and always gives the first indicator of any event or phenomenon ahead of traditional news media. Here we can see that is very much not the case, with GDELT actually beating Reddit and Wikipedia views to the punch both in the very first glimmers of Sanders in March 2015 and then when he begins to really take off in May 2015 and again in October 2015. Across the timeline as a whole, media either leads or at least holds fairly even with Reddit and Wikipedia views. This is in keeping with the largely missed phenomena that social media tends to be best at reflecting sudden onset tangible physical events, while traditional MSM can offer more powerful indicators to larger and long-term emergent patterns like the rise of Bernie Sanders.

At the very least, what we see in the graph above is a powerful reminder of how traditional news media reflects and drives global human society.