Facebook Gets Out The Vote

Facebook Voting

Dara Lind explains the power of Facebook’s digital voting sticker (seen above):

Facebook offered the “I Voted” sticker to most of its users in 2010 — but not all of them. A few hundred thousand users just didn’t see any sticker at all, and a few hundred thousand more got the sticker but no information about whether their friends had clicked it.

It turns out that people were a little more likely to vote — and definitely more likely to tell Facebook they’d voted — if they saw their friends had voted too. Eighteen percent of people who didn’t see a list of friends who’d voted clicked on the “I Voted” sticker; 20 percent of people who did see the list of friends clicked on it. And users who saw both the sticker and the list of friends were slightly more likely (about 0.6 percent) to actually go to the polls than users who didn’t see anything.

Robin Meyer is concerned:

Facebook can already figure out so much about us: our politics, our income, our sexual orientation—even when we’re about to fall in love. As Zittrain wrote earlier this year, the company could easily combine that tranche of data with selective deployment of its “I Voted” button and tilt an election. Just make certain populations more likely to see the button, and, ta-da: modification managed.

And Facebook, frankly, may be altering elections already. Social networks skewyoung and female: two reliably progressive-leaning demographics. Even if Facebook distributed the button equally to its users, it might still bring more liberal users to the polls than conservative ones.

conservatives have little to fear from Facebook”:

While Facebook, born on college campuses, was once the domain of the young and likely left-leaning voter, its demographics have been changing rapidly year-over-year as more parents and grandparents log on to the service to swap family photos and catch up with long-lost friends. (Indeed, parents signing up for Facebook is probably a reason some teens are fleeing to alternative platforms hidden away from their guardians’ watchful eyes.) Facebook use is definitely still more common among the young, but its user base is getting older by the year. Pew found at the end of 2013 that Facebook “usage among seniors has increased significantly in the last year,” for example, and it’s safe to assume that trend has continued through 2014. Pew’s numbers also show Facebook use cuts across several other demographic factors, like race and urbanites/suburbanites/rural adults. And Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at Pew, said in a July presentation that there are few partisan differences regarding Facebook use.

Ultimately, Facebook is now so ubiquitous that if it does what it promises to do Tuesday — show the “I Voted” sticker to nearly every voting age American — it shouldn’t bring out one side’s voters more than the other’s.