Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Can Social Media Become the Saviour of Democracy ?

An article in Nature claims to have proven the  direct impact of  social media on political activity. Researchers at the University of Carolina along with people from Facebook run a gigantic experiment.

On Nov. 2, 2010, the day of the nationwide Congressional elections, nearly every Facebook member who signed on — 61 million in all — received a nonpartisan “get out the vote” message at the top of the site’s news feed. It included a reminder that “today is Election Day”; a link to local polling places; an option to click an “I Voted” button, with a counter displaying the total number of Facebook users who had reported voting; and as many as six pictures of the member’s friends who had reported voting. The results: 340,000 additional votes nationwide! Pretty amazing, but how can we be sure these people would not have voted by themselves?

Two randomly chosen control groups, of 600,000 Facebook members each, did not receive the pictures. One group received just the “get out the vote” message; the other received no voting message at all.By examining public voter rolls, the researchers were able to compare actual turnout among the groups. They determined that the message showing friends who had voted was directly responsible for 60,000 more votes nationwide and indirectly responsible for 280,000 that were spurred by friends of friends — what they called “social contagion” effect.

Significantly if not surprisingly, the voting study showed that patterns of influence were much more likely to be demonstrated among close friends, suggesting that “strong ties” in cyberspace are more likely than “weak ties” to influence behavior. It also found an indirect impact from the messages: friends of friends were influenced as well.

Fun fact, they also discovered that about 4 percent of those who claimed they had voted were not telling the truth.Because only about 1 percent of Facebook users openly state their political orientation, the researchers said they could not determine whether political leanings had any influence on social networking and voting behavior.Past studies have shown that a variety of methods for mobilizing potential voters have a disappointing effect. Knocking on doors is the most effective technique; e-mail is one of the least.

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