Facebook Experiment Boosts Election Turnouts

Wed 19 September 2012 12:00, Vitto Christaldi

Facebook Experiment Boosts Election Turnouts

Social media has a big influence on voting behavior, according to a study published in Nature Magazine. In 2010, 340.000 US citizens turned up to vote due to a single election-day message sent through Facebook.

The experiment involved 61 million US Facebook users who were over 18 and accessed the social network on the 2010 election day, 2 November 2010. In this experiment, 1 percent of the users (611,000 users) were provided a link to information about the election at the top of their news feeds, including a ‘I voted’ button’ and a statistic of Facebook users who had clicked on the button. The other 60 million or so users received similar elements through messages with additional of six randomly selected Facebook friends who had clicked the ‘I voted’ button. The remaining 1% received no message at all.

The results of the experiment show that those who received the informational election link on their news feed voted at the same rate as those who received no message at all. However, those who received the election information through messages were 2% more likely to click the 'I voted' button and 0.3% more likely to seek information about the election than those who received the informational election link through news feed, and 0.4% more likely to turn up to vote than other group.

"We don't know how this works; it could be that on Facebook, you see that a friend has voted or that he simply takes you with him to vote", said James Fowler, professor of political science in the Division of Social Sciences of University of California. The researchers also could not identify whether Republicans or Democrats were activated by this message. However, for future studies, the researchers will develop more complex analyses which will hopefully show users political orientation from users’ comments and likes. "This is the most exciting research of my lifetime”, said James Fowler further.



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