‘Social voting’ really does rock the vote

September 14, 2012

The experiment and direct effects. Examples of the informational message and social message Facebook treatments (a) and their direct effect on voting behavior (b). (Credit: Robert M. Bond, et al./Nature)

Brace yourself for a tidal wave of Facebook campaigning before November’s U.S. presidential election. A study of 61 million Facebook users finds that using online social networks to urge people to vote has a much stronger effect on their voting behavior than spamming them with information via television ads or phone calls, Science Now reports.

The study follows a Science paper that tracked how people influence each other’s online behavior through Facebook.

On Election Day, about 60 million people received a message that encouraged them to vote. It included links to local polling stations, a clickable “I Voted” button, and photos of six of their randomly chosen friends who had already clicked the “I Voted” button.

The photos apparently worked: People who received messages alerting them that their friends had voted were 0.39% more likely to vote than those who received messages with no social information. That translates to an additional 282,000 votes cast, the team reports online today in Nature.