Why CNN Uses Facebook to Drive Political Discussion

In an acknowledgement that fewer people are tuning into the news on a daily basis, CNN is partnering with Facebook on its political coverage as the country approaches the national conventions. The two will launch a Facebook app in late August that is designed to take the pulse of the nation as it relates to politics, as well as educate the public on general political views.

“We wanted to be able to get at some of the untold stories of trends around the election and people’s sentiments related to the issues,” said KC Estenson, svp, CNN Digital. “We decided we would build an app that we would use to ask people questions around the issues and events for this election cycle, and we would post the results and utilize those answers in our reporting on air.”

CNN will use the app to ask Facebook users questions that are driving the national discussion, though it will not take the place of any of the network’s official polling. Instead, it will ascertain what issues — such as the economy, healthcare, states rights vs. federal rights, education — are most important to specific groups of people, using Facebook’s demographic data to “slice and dice sentiment” around different parts of the country, for example. CNN’s editorial team and Facebook’s research team will collaborate on the questions, whose answers will be published on CNN, CNN.com and on the U.S. Politics on Facebook page.

“My hope is that this will raise poetical efficacy in general, in particular with a group of people who are not tuning into the news every day but are very active on social media,” said Estenson. “We’re not looking to provide unique insights for one political candidate — just for people to know what’s going on who feel like things are polarized.” That being said, Estenson added that because of privacy concerns, there will not be any indication for whom a particular user plans to vote.

This collaboration is perhaps reminiscent of the announcement of the New York Times’ collaboration with Buzzfeed, in which the two will share video feeds of the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Similar to the Times’ Jim Roberts and BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, Estenson sees social media as a crucial aspect of news reporting — though he doesn’t see Facebook or Twitter as competing news sources. “I consider them communities of people who are doing all kinds of things, and being aware of, and consuming, information is just part of that model,” he said.

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