Facebook can affect the turnout

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Social networks like Facebook can help get more people to vote. A major U.S. study shows that – with limitations.

As free and self-determining our decisions, social scientists have been discussing for decades. They usually come to the conclusion: Which phone we buy, where we go out to eat, and even whether we participate in elections is influenced – particularly by people who are close to us. It also shows a study by James Fowler and his colleagues at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of California .

It shows that Facebook friends can someone get them to go to the polling station. At least 340,000 U.S. citizens participated in the study, according to the 2010 congressional elections , because they have been notified by a message on Facebook about the fact that six of her friends have already chosen. 

61 million Americans took – without knowing it – in the experiment the researchers. When she morning of 2 November 2010 einloggten on Facebook, appeared the message “Today is Election Day” on their Wall.These included a link to a list of polling places around and an “I-have-chosen” to see button.

Friends have influence

Almost all participants Facebook also showed six photos of friends who had already clicked this. In the control group received some 600,000 Facebook members to call for elections without the photos of friends. Further, approximately 600,000 received absolutely no call for elections. 

Scientists interested in what the news had affected the voting behavior of the participants stronger – with pictures of friends or without images. The result: “The message with the photos of friends had a more significant effect on turnout, as the sober-election message,” says Fowler. So those who saw the photos of friends who had already clicked the “I-have-chosen” button actuated him even more often than those who got to see any photos. 

The researchers then examined who had clicked of those “I’ve chosen” to actually see the publicly available electoral roll was. If you had clicked the button, but did not show up in the list, was not included in the calculation.

60,000 voters obtained directly

Fowler and his colleagues conclude that the electoral appeal of the photos have mobilized about 60,000 people directly into voting. The network effect – thus forwarding the message to other Facebook users – 280,000 more votes were due to.

One problem remains: Researchers can not rule out that other factors have also quite moved someone to actually go to the polling station. Since they had composed the three test groups but randomly, they could assume that these other factors have statistically played in all groups the same role.

“The three groups were considered identical -. Apart from the message that was sent to them why lead the researchers to the different results for the three groups on the different crafted messages,” says sociologist Jan-Hinrik Schmidt from Hamburg Hans-Bredow Institute for Media Research . How great the power of the network in comparison to other factors would be, this study not recognize.

Compared with previous experiments to increase the turnout has a facebook message is not as strong. An example of this is an experiment , the political scientist Donald Green of Yale University and his colleagues have carried out in 2008: the citizens before the election was announced, by letter, that would know their neighbors whether they voted or not. “There was the peer pressure and the direct influence much stronger,” says Fowler. That the peer pressure when Facebook experiment was mediated solely through an online network, but the effect was remarkable.

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