According to a report released by Mother Jones late last week, Facebook experimented with its user’s News Feeds during the 2012 election in an effort to get them to vote. The study moved news features higher in News Feeds during the election to see if more exposure to these events could encourage users to vote. Of course, this revelation comes on the heels of the disclosure of another study the site conducted on more than 700,000 without their knowledge in 2012. That research was focused on manipulating user emotions by controlling what they saw on their News Feeds.
Facebook has also introduced a tool on large election days that allows users to announce “I’m a Voter” or “I’m Voting” to their friends. The intended effect: to gently nudge or peer-pressure Facebook users into hitting up their local polling stations.
The results that Facebook has gathered from previous election are astounding. According to the Facebook research team, 20 percent of users who saw that their friends had voted also clicked on the “I Voted” button, while 18 percent of users who didn’t see their friends’ activity clicked on it. While that’s only a two percent difference, it’s a massive number when you consider the tens of millions of voters affected by the button.
While Facebook’s efforts to get people to vote are commendable, is it really their place to play such a major role in national politics? Though it’s unclear what Facebook is doing with the research or what it has planned for future political events, it’s obvious the site could play a major role in the future of this country’s electoral process.