Statistics of political "match-me" services raise questions in Finland

HELSINKI, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- Internet based "choose-your-canddidate" services have become an essential part of the pre-election menu offered by major media houses in many countries including Finland.

In the applications on the internet or on mobile gadgets, customers answer questions arranged by a media house and its system is supposed to be able to find which candidate matches best the attitude of a customer - writes

While the machines are supposed to offer help for voters as an education tool, they can also produce information about the popularity of the candidates, when the opinion polls are still the traditional way of measuring the popularity.

The difference between the results of major polls and some of the match-me services has raised questions in Finland about the reliability of the services and about the impact they could have on voting decisions, if collective data are published.

National broadcaster Yle has not published any statistics about the matches in its service. Yle producer Juho Salminen told Xinhua on Wednesday that the system of Yle cannot collect such information for the time being.

"But we have not decided whether we will collect such information in the future and whether it would be published during future election campaigns," Salminen said.

Populist candidate Laura Huhtasaari from the Finns Party has shown much higher appeal in some match-me services than in the polls. For example, the success of Huhtasaari as shown by the news service Uutissuomalainen made headlines last week.

While the incumbent president Sauli Niinisto leads the opinion polls at a level of roughly "half of the nation", the match-me website of Uutissuomalainen some weeks ago gave Huhtasaari as the option for nearly a half of its users.

As of Wednesday, 39 percent of the visitors of Uutissuomalainen got Huhtasaari as their favorite while Niinisto enjoyed only 15 percent. Uutissuomalainen does not publish actively its statistics, but the latest figures were given to Xinhua upon request.

Pekka Mervola, editor in chief of newspaper Keskisuomalainen, which the Uutissuomalainen service is attached to, told Xinhua that the service has no intention of being a poll. "The aim is to inform the people and help them make sensible choices".

However, he could not dismiss the possibility that the popularity of Huhtasaari could be that high among the people who have used their service.

Hannu-Pekka Hakamaki, a specialist in the team that created the service in Uutissuomalainen, explained that the system sums up the distance between the customer and the candidates in all questions.

"If they agree", the distance is zero. He noted that Huhtasaari is the only presidential candidate who agrees with the claims "compulsory teaching of Swedish should be stopped" and "Finland must restrict immigration from certain countries on terrorism grounds".

"Those claims were backed by people using the system and they got a full match with Huhtasaari," he said. "Of course the majority of the users do not agree with Huhtsaari on all issues."

Juha Rekola, an ethics specialist at the Finnish Journalist Union, said it is important how the questions and claims are formulated. Talking to Xinhua, he said the matching services give the most complete matching results based on the information obtained from the users and the candidates.

Rekola noted, however, the way the questions and claims are formulated really matters. "That is then a journalistic process", Rekola said.

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