Lesson Plan: Big Data and Politics

What is "Big Data?"

Innovation analyst Alec Ross explains the concept of "Big Data" and it applications to our lives.


Big data describes the large amounts of data sets that are produced and captured in our day-to-day lives. This data can include information about purchases, social media accounts, internet searches, etc. This information can be used to better determine causes of phenomena, predict behavior, and improve efficiency. As the use of big data becomes more prevalent, political campaigns have started to adopt these techniques. This lesson explains big data and how it is used in political campaigns.


  • STEP 1:


    • What do you use the internet for?

    • How does computer software adapt to your preferences and habits?

    • How might companies and political campaigns use your information, including your online activity and habits to influence you?
  • STEP 2:

    Have students watch the following clip and answer the question "What is Big Data?"

    Video Clip 1: What is "Big Data?" (2:26)

  • STEP 3:

    Watch the following clip as a class. In small groups, have the student discuss the questions below:

    Video Clip 2: Netflix and Big Data (3:28)

    • How does Netflix track your preferences?

    • How do they use that data to adapt to your preferences?

    • Predict how this information and other sources of big data would be useful for political candidates to have?

    • What advantages would politicians have by having access to this data?
  • STEP 3:

    View the following clip and have the students answer the questions below:

    Video Clip 3: Big Data and Politics (5:01)

    • How do politicians and political campaigns use algorithms to persuade voters?

    • *How has big data impacted the messages in a political campaign?

    • What are the impacts of targeted messaging?

    • According to Michal Kosinski, how does using algorithms and targeted messaging improve democracy?

    • How has big data and targeted marketing made politics more accessible to candidates of the establishment?
  • STEP 4:

    Students will get into partner groups. For each question, have the students think about their responses individually, discuss in partners and be prepared to share with the class.

    • How are you impacted by targeted marketing using big data?

    • Should political campaigns be able to use your data for political purposes? Why or why not?

    • Is the use of big data in political campaigns good for our democracy? Explain.
  • STEP 5:

    Exit Slip- Before each student leaves, have them answer the following question and turn it in.

    • In your opinion, how important is big data to future political campaigns?

    Social Media Advertisements- Log on to a social media platform and look for advertisements on your newsfeed. Keep a journal of all the advertisements you see. For each advertisement, explain why you think this advertisement showed up on your feed based on what you know about targeted marketing. Keep in mind your age, gender, location and interests.

    Personalized Political Advertisement- Using data and analytics, campaigns can create more personalized advertisements and messages. Create a Facebook advertisement that would appeal to you and your interests.

Additional Resources


  • Algorithms
  • Big Data
  • Campaigns
  • Democracy
  • Marketing
  • Social Media


Campaigns & Elections


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