Anybody who logged onto Facebook on election day got hit with a crazy number of “go vote!” messages. Most were from your friends, many were from the companies you’ve Liked. (We tried to make ours go down easier by pairing it with a picture of an adorable puppy.) But there were also some messages from Facebook itself. They were either just general messages to go vote or a list of your friends who’ve already voted (who then told Facebook that they voted, of course).
But here’s where it gets interesting. Not everybody saw these messages. Four percent of Facebook users got no message. Why?
By splitting up the population into these experimental and control groups, researchers will be able to see if the messages had any effect on voting behavior when they begin matching the Facebook users to the voter rolls (whom a person voted for is private information, but whether they voted is public).
Researchers want to know if social pressure from Facebook affects people’s decisions about voting. So, with Facebook’s cooperation, they’re seeing if the “your friends are voting” messages gave people the final push to perform their civic duty.
For most people, Facebook and politics are like potato chips and cupcakes — addictive on their own, but pretty revolting when paired together. The number of posts for (or more likely, against) a candidate before the election was topped only by the number of posts by people complaining about their Facebook feeds being hijacked by friends talking politics.
(Somebody could make a killing on a Facebook app that blocks all references to specific candidates. Get on that, innovators.)
But maybe the constant politi-chatter is reinforcing your political beliefs as it annoys you. You might roll your eyes when one of your friends posts “NOBAMA!”, but maybe that post is a reminder for liberal voters to cancel out that guy’s vote and a reminder for conservative voters to back that guy’s vote up. Maybe individual political messages all blur together after awhile, but the combined effect of seeing them again and again every day helps you develop your opinion.
Think about it this way: Ask the next person you see which presidential candidate they voted for. Most people will answer quickly. Now ask someone how they voted for a specific local ballot measure. Many people won’t even be able to remember.
And which are you more likely to see as a Facebook post — “NOBAMA” or “MEASURE 82, I CHOOSE YOU!”?
(Note to self: Make Pokémon themed bumper sticks supporting ballot measures that end in 2′s.)