HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) — Friendships and photos aren’t the only thing influencing Facebook users – a simple message can change voting habits.

In the study conducted on Nov. 2, 2010, a message at the top of users’ newsfeeds changed their voting habits. It was the pictures of the Facebook users’ six closest friends equipped with the message that these people had voted that sent 340,000 more people to the polls on Election Day in 2010.

In the study, 60 million Facebook users received a message including the link to polls, the “I voted” button, and pictures of their closest friends who had also voted. About 600,000 people, or one percent, were randomly assigned to see a modified message that included everything except the pictures of friends. An additional one percent received no Election Day message from Facebook at all to serve as a control group in the study.

The study was done by James Fowler, a UC San Diego political science professor, and Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s head of data science, who found that this social influence may be the best way to increase voting.

Fowler found that the users who received the social message were more likely than others to click on the “I Voted” button.

“I definitely feel more inclined to do something when I see that my friends are engaged in it as well,” USC sophomore Geena Grauman told atvn.org. “You could definitely tell that they were targeting college students to vote. There were ads all the time on MTV and people would post about it on Facebook and Twitter. It was definitely a good reminder to register and vote.”

Friends also have a great deal of influence over voting. The study found that even users who didn’t get a message directly from Facebook still had a higher percentage of voting if their close friends received the message. This was because each time a friend clicked the “I Voted” button a notification would appear in the newsfeed.

“Social influence made all the difference in political mobilization,” Dr. Fowler said in 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.”

While the number of people who voted due to Facebook is small in relation to the country’s population, Dr. Fowler points out the large scale of the research. This small effect across millions of users spreads to billions of online social network friends, which will create higher numbers.


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