Online Peer Pressure Boosts Voter Turnout
Online peer pressure has yielded a positive effect for the political realm, according to a new study conducted by the University of California in San Diego.
Researchers found that a single Facebook status posted on Election Day during the 2010 midterm elections convinced about one-third of a million more people to show up at the polls.
The study — published in Nature — compared two groups of Facebook users who saw on their newsfeeds altered versions of a nonpartisan post encouraging voting.
One group of users saw a message reminding them to vote. The other group saw the same message, but this time, the user saw Facebook friends who had interacted with the post by clicking “I voted.” An additional 600,000 users served as the control group and received no Facebook message.
The message was viewed 60 million times.
The group that saw the more “social message” was more likely than the other groups to look for polling places in their area as well as click the “I Voted” button.
“Social influence made all the difference in political mobilization,” says James Fowler, lead author of the study. “It’s not the ‘I Voted’ button, or the lapel sticker we’ve all seen that gets out the vote. It’s the person attached to it.”
The results can prove powerful for the approaching presidential election. Both candidates have built online presences with digital directors and growing Facebook and Twitter followings.
The study also accounted for Facebook users who would lie and click the “I Voted” link without actually casting a ballot. By using publicly available voting records, the researchers found 4% of people claimed they voted online but really didn’t.
But, regardless of the fabricators, the polling results proved that this form of online peer pressure was more likely to not only influence partaking in the democratic process, but altogether activating larger groups.
Fowler says that Facebook helped yield four voters for every one voter that was directly targeted with the “I Voted” post.
The researchers found no difference in the effects of the study based on the users’ political affiliation. But, they did find that users were more responsive if “close friends” were associated with the post as opposed to people with whom they had no relationship with outside of the online network.
“The main driver of behavior change is not the message -– it’s the vast social network,” Fowler says. “Whether we want to get out the vote or improve public health, we should not only focus on the direct effect of an intervention, but also on the indirect effect as it spreads from person to person to person.”
Are you more likely to vote (or participate in any activity) if you see your Facebook friends doing it? Explain your answer in the comments below.