EPFL to launch public opinion analysis platform during COP21 in Paris

© 2015 EPFL

© 2015 EPFL

EPFL’s Social Media Lab (ESML) will take advantage of the COP21 Climate Forum in Paris to test Horizon, its social media-based public opinion tracking tool. It will be used to scientifically analyze and unravel public perceptions surrounding environmental issues.

Does the public believe that the Kyoto Protocol, the only existing legally binding agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, will be renewed? Are people for or against carbon taxes? In order to better gauge public opinion, EPFL will test Horizon, its social media-based analysis platform, during the upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris. Politicians and companies are particularly interested in the results.

The Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), with the support of the Avril Group, is developing a new form of journalism that is based on direct use of data published on social networks. It will be tested during the upcoming international climate conference in Paris. The conference organizers’ marked interest in this tool made it possible for Horizon to obtain the official COP21 label for it.

“By analyzing discussions on social media, the platform that we’ve developed allows us to monitor in real time what the public thinks of the issues at stake and the decisions taken or under consideration, to display statistical trends and classify the various arguments that are shaping the public debate,” explains Jean-Luc Jaquier, head of the project in the Social Media Lab. “This will allow us to highlight the discussions taking place between opinion leaders and the public.”

The platform takes the form of an interactive website cop21horizon.com. The goal is to give the media, scientists, experts, negotiators, politicians, NGOs, and companies a new means of accessing raw information.

Horizon will gather, analyze and publish in real time the evolution of debates by collecting information and data on social media networks and establishing a synthesis of opinions. It will also play the role of decoding the negotiations: the platform will identify and transmit – live – the positions held by negotiators, opinion leaders, NGOs, and media representatives, along with the respective weights of the arguments being put forward.

Algorithms to the rescue
Horizon makes it possible to monitor and deconstruct the discussions taking place on social networks with an unprecedented level of detail. It also pulls back the curtain on the positions and emotions of the principal actors involved, along with their credibility, their influences, and direction in which each of them is leaning as a function of the argument being discussed.

The platform models the movement of public opinion on an image of a globe, making it easy to follow how opinions are changing over time. The results will be presented live, country by country and community by community. This visualization will be the digital tool of choice for clarifying the major climate issues at stake at COP21.

During the conference, the Horizon platform will be testing the Social Media Index (SMI), an indicator that measures the intensity of discussions and debates as well as the level of emotional engagement on social media. ISM will categorize each debate and controversy using two key indicators: one will evaluate the level of mobilization, and the other the emotional intensity of discussions. The ISM test will also involve recognizing the primary emotions associated with the debates in order to improve Horizon’s accuracy and results, optimizing the algorithms involved.

All the data exchanged and recorded by Horizon as part of COP21 will be immediately available to the media in the form of widgets that can be used for their various editorial needs. The service provides content in real time to analysts and the media.

The platform opens up a new avenue for understanding and analyzing major debates and public opinion surrounding them. It will be a valuable tool for politicians, companies, the media and many other end-users. It is supported by the Avril group, a leading industrial and financial player in the oils and proteins sector. To deploy the technology during COP21, EPFL engaged a third party company to manage technological aspects and to prepare teams to run the platform — a team of journalists associated with scientists and sociologists. A number of companies are already showing interest in the tool as a way to better understand their clientele.

Author: Corinne Feuz
Source: EPFL