September 14, 2012
A recent study suggests that a special nonpartisan “get out and vote” message on Facebook, which included pictures of friends who said they already voted, generated more than 340,000 additional votes nationwide on Election Day 2010. However, the study did not determine which party these posts were affiliated with, The New York Times reports.
While the number of votes that the messages spawned was small compared to the overall turnout (about 90.7 million people), it could still impact individual races: Less than 0.01 percent of the vote in Florida decided that 2000 presidential election.
The study, conducted by scientists from Facebook and the University of California, San Diego, was published on Wednesday by the journal Nature. Experts believe that this is the first to show that social networks could have at least some impact on elections, and the findings could have implications that extend beyond voting.
Also, the study found that “patterns of influence were much more likely to be demonstrated among close friends,” the Times reports, suggesting that strong ties in cyberspace are more prone to influence behavior. And the message had indirect impact on friends of friends.
In what researchers call the “social contagion” effect, the Facebook message that displayed pictures of friends who voted was directly responsible for significantly more votes nationwide than the same message presented without pictures.
“What we have shown here, is that the online world and the real world affect one another,” said James H. Fowler, a professor of medical genetics and political science at the university. — Kyra Auffermann
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