In a recent study published in Nature, a science and medical journal, an additional 340,000 votes were garnered with the help of Facebook in the 2010 Congressional elections.
Sixty million Facebook users were randomly assigned to receive a social message, informational message or no message at all.
The social message was displayed at the top of the user’s news feed on Election Day, urging them to vote. On the news feed, it provided a link to locate local polling locations and a clickable “I Voted” button. It also listed up to six randomly selected profile pictures of friends who also clicked the “I Voted” button.
About 600,000 people received the informational message that was on the news feed as well. It was the same as the social message minus the profile pictures of friends who clicked the “I Voted” button.
“We wanted to know if online networks were a good approximation for real world networks. By partnering with Facebook … we were able to make much stronger inferences about people’s behavior,” said Christopher Fariss, graduate student at University of California San Diego and one of six co-authors of this study.
Users who received the social message were more likely to click the “I Voted” button and seek out a polling place than if they received the informational message or no message at all. The researchers were able to determine, with public voter registration information, how many of those people actually voted, and while everyone did not, the social message group was more likely to vote.
“There’s a lot of other research that shows how people want to be seen as participating in something that they view as a positive civic duty,” Fariss said. “Research shows that if you ask someone if they voted, they’re likely to tell you that they did even if they didn’t. There’s a social desirability bias.”
About 60,000 users visited the polls as a direct result of the social message. More than four times that amount of people who were not a part of the study voted after seeing their Facebook friends — who were participants of the study — did. This was estimated to be about an additional 280,000 votes.
Close friends, as indicated by the amount of Facebook interaction known as the “top 10,” accounted for the bulk of the voting contagion. Friends outside of the top 10 had no influence whatsoever.
“On average people have about 150 Facebook friends, and we know that it’s a much smaller number who we talk to on a day-to-day basis, so it’s those close friendships who are influencing us to vote,” Fariss said.
However, some students say this would not affect their voting habits.
Mallory Gabel, senior communications major, shared similar sentiments.
“I don’t think it would affect whether I would vote or not. I think that’s because I have my own views that are already set in my mind, and so seeing that doesn’t affect whether I would vote or not.”
Some critics argue the numbers are too small to be significant.
“While the effects are modest, they multiply through the network. The 340,000 number is kind of conservative because when we were looking at people’s actual real world voting habits, we were only able to validate about 60 million people’s behavior, so it’s possible that the number could have been even larger,” Fariss said.
Fariss and his researching team do not have plans in place to execute this study for the upcoming Presidential election.
Fariss believes this study illustrates the positive effects social media can have on the population.
“In terms of the study, most of us consider voting to be a civic duty and the more people that vote the more successful the campaign, so in this case it was a positive use of social media,” Fariss said.blog comments powered by Disqus