Facebook’s new “I’m a Voter” app is creating buzz around the web, especially in the world’s largest social network itself. You might have thought it as just a mere app targeted to the voters in the United States for the upcoming midterm elections. You’re wrong — read more to learn.
You might have noticed, or yet to notice a small popup kind of notifications above your Facebook newsfeed, where you can see the heading as “It’s Election Day” and with an “I’m a Voter” button. It makes a difference and it’s real. Earlier in 2010, many similar social influences lead to the mass turnout at the polling stations across the nation — thanks to the collaboration between Facebook and some serious scientists. According to the research report (pdf file), over 340,ooo additional voters were influenced through the app introduced by Facebook in that election cycle.
Not to forget, the year 2000’s election was decided by a mere 537 votes in Florida. That means, each vote counts and the massive turnout due to the social influences might help the elections as an advantage.
The New Republic wrote:
“With Facebook’s cooperation, the political scientists who dreamed up the study planted that graphic in the newsfeeds of tens of millions of users. (Other groups of Facebook users were shown a generic get-out-the-vote message or received no voting reminder at all.) Then, in an awesome feat of data-crunching, the researchers cross-referenced their subjects’ names with the day’s actual voting records from precincts across the country to measure how much their voting prompt increased turnout.
“Overall, users notified of their friends’ voting were 0.39 percent more likely to vote than those in the control group, and any resulting decisions to cast a ballot also appeared to ripple to the behavior of close Facebook friends, even if those people hadn’t received the original message. That small increase in turnout rates amounted to lots of new votes. The researchers concluded that their Facebook graphic directly mobilized 60,000 voters, and, thanks to the ripple effect, ultimately caused an additional 340,000 votes to be cast that day.”
However, some critics blame Facebook for conducting these kind of experiments, without letting know its users in the first place. For example, Mother Jones points out that these get-out-the-vote initiative won’t be scientifically a valid experiment with millions of Facebook users, as there could be thousands of the control group users included in the initiative inside the “I’m a voter application.
Mother Jones reported:
“In particular, Facebook has studied how changes in the news feed seen by its users—the constant drip-drip-drip of information shared by friends that is the heart of their Facebook experience—can affect their level of interest in politics and their likelihood of voting. In one such experiment, conducted in the three months prior to Election Day in 2012, Facebook increased the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feeds of 1.9 million users. According to one Facebook data scientist, that the change—which users were not alerted to—measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout.”
It’s not faded from the mind of Facebook users, a few months ago, Facebook had to face the serious backlash by users, critics and a few governments across the world for manipulating the users’ newsfeed in an emotional contagion experiment. Over 600K users’ newsfeed were manipulated for over a week in January 2012. Although it was meant to be for scientific use, it’s an evidence that social media can have such a strong impact on people’s mental state will certainly be of interest to advertisers.
Facebook to feature the “I’m a voter” app on all (over 100 million) adult users’ newsfeed (wall) in the US today.