Facebook 'poke' gets out the vote

Sep 12, 2012
A delegate poses in the Facebook photo booth during Republican National Convention in August 2012. A single Facebook message on a congressional election day in 2010 prompted about a third of a million more Americans to cast their vote, scientists said.

A single Facebook message on a congressional election day in 2010 prompted about a third of a million more Americans to cast their vote, scientists said on Wednesday.

The biggest-ever experiment into confirms that in cyberspace helps get out the vote in the real world, they said.

On November 2, 2010, 60 million Americans who logged onto Facebook saw a non-partisan prompt at the top of their newsfeeds.

It comprised a message that said "Today is Election Day"; a clickable "I Voted" button; a link to local polling places; a counter on how many Facebook users had already reported voting; and up to six pictures of close Facebook "friends" who said they had already voted.

A further 600,000 people were assigned to see a modified message. It was identical in all respects to the first, except that it had no pictures of friends who had voted.

A third group, also comprising 600,000 people, were a comparison, or "control." They did not receive any "Today is Election Day" prompt at all.

The researchers then examined how the Facebook users behaved.

By looking at public records from polling stations—but without revealing the identity of the voter or how they voted—the scientists estimate that those who received the informational message or no prompt voted in the same prevalence.

Where there was a difference was among the group that got the prompt along with the pictures of friends who had voted.

Those who received this "social" message were 0.39 percent likelier to cast their vote than the other groups.

Translated a different way, this amounts to an extra 60,000 votes cast by the "social message" recipients, say the scientists.

But they say the figure can be multiplied roughly fourfold nationwide because of social contagion—when friends tell others that they have voted, this can prompt to follow suit.

So by this count, some 340,000 people voted because of the Facebook "poke."

"Social influence made all the difference in political mobilisation," said James Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, who led the experiment.

"It's not the 'I voted' button or the lapel sticker we've all seen that gets out the vote. It's the person attached to it."

The result also shows how the virtual world can have an impact on the , especially in electoral contests resting on a knife edge, he said.

In the 2000 US presidential election, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by 537 votes, or less than 0.01 percent of the vote—a result that gave Bush the White House thanks to the US electoral college system.

In a commentary, also appearing in the science journal Nature, New York University academic Sinan Aral said the test gave scientific backing to anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of "viral marketing."

"But such interventions also have the potential to promote positive social changes, such as increasing the rate of HIV testing, reducing violence, improving adherence to exercise, or increasing political mobilisation and awareness," said Aral.

"In this way, the science of may have dramatic implications for products, politics and public health."

Explore further: Facebook lets users squirrel items away

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Social networks boosts election turnout

Sep 12, 2012

About one third of a million more people showed up at the ballot box in the United States in 2010 because of a single Facebook message on Election Day, estimates a new study led by the University of California, ...

Recommended for you

Google made failed bid for Spotify

4 hours ago

Internet titan Google tried last year to buy streaming music service Spotify but backed off for reasons including a whopping price tag, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Thieves got into 1,000 StubHub accounts

4 hours ago

(AP)—Cyber thieves got into more than 1,000 StubHub customers' accounts and fraudulently bought tickets for events through the online ticket reseller, a law enforcement official and the company said.

Putin signs law seen as crimping social media

16 hours ago

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a law requiring Internet companies to store all personal data of Russian users at data centres in Russia, a move which could chill criticism on foreign social networking ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caliban
not rated yet Sep 12, 2012
Finally, something to get FB share prices outta the dumper!!!