London: Peer pressure applied through social networking site Facebook can significantly boost the number of people who vote in an election, a new study has claimed.
Researchers from the University of California found about one third of a million more people showed up at the ballot box in the 2010 US Congressional elections because of a single Facebook message on the day.
They said the experiment confirms that peer pressure helps get out the vote and demonstrates that on-line social networks can affect important real-world behaviour, ‘The Telegraph’ reported.
“Our study suggests that social influence may be the best way to increase voter turnout. Just as importantly, we show that what happens on-line matters a lot for the real world,” lead author James Fowler said.
For the study, more than 60 million people on Facebook saw a social, non-partisan “get out the vote” message at the top of their news feeds on November 2nd, 2010.
The message featured a reminder that “Today is Election Day”; a clickable “I Voted” button; a link to local polling places; a counter displaying how many Facebook users had already reported voting; and up to six profile pictures of
users’ own Facebook friends who had reported voting.
About 600,000 people, or one per cent, were randomly assigned to see a modified “informational message,” identical in all respects to the social message except for pictures of friends.
An additional 600,000 served as the control group and received no Election Day message from Facebook at all. Fowler and his colleagues then compared the behaviour of recipients of the social message.
Users who had received the social message were more likely than the others both to look for a polling place and to click on the “I Voted” button. To estimate how many people actually voted, the team used publicly available voting records.
“Social influence made all the difference in political mobilisation,” Fowler said.
The researchers estimate that the direct effect of the Facebook social message on users who saw it generated an additional 60,000 votes in 2010.
But the effects of the social network – of social contagion among friends – they say, yielded another 280,000 more, for a total of 340,000. ”The main driver of behaviour change is not the message – it’s the vast social network,” Fowler added. The findings were published in the journal ‘Nature’.