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Facebook Mobilizes the Masses

Screenshot from Facebook: Find your polling place on the US Politics Page and click the "I Voted" button to tell your friends you voted
Problem Area: 


Many Americans don't vote. 


Online social networks like Facebook can easily and cheaply send thousands of people to the voting booth....


Political scientist Robert Bond and his colleagues tested whether they could use social media to show that your friends are voting, and therefore so should you.They randomly divided all adult users who logged on to Facebook on Election Day 2010 into three conditions.

In the informational messagecondition, 611,044 users saw a message that encouraged voting, linked to information about local polling places, had a clickable “I Voted” button, and showed how many Facebook users had already voted.

Meanwhile, the 60,055,176 users in the social messagecondition saw the same message PLUS the pictures of up to 6 Facebook friends who had clicked the “I Voted” button and a total tally of their friends who had voted.

Finally, In the control condition, users did not see any special messages about voting.

The researchers found that users in the social message condition were 0.39% more likely to vote than users in the information only or control conditions, according to local polling records. This increase may seem small, but it translates into some 60,000 additional votes—enough to swing a U.S. presidential election.

Bond and his colleagues also discovered that the effects of their intervention rippled through people's social networks and affected their close friends (on Facebook, that's someone you interact with regularly). The likelihood a person who did not receive the social message would vote increased by 0.22% for every close friend who had received the social message. These indirect votes brought another 280,000 people to the polls.

Why This Works

People like to fit in, especially with friends. If your friends are voting, you are more likely to follow suit. By showing you that your friends are voting, social media can get out the vote.

When This Works Best

Behaviors travel fastest through networks of close friends.

Original Study

Bond, R. M, Fariss, C. J., Jones, J. J., Kramer, A. D. I., Marlow, C., Settle, J. E., & Fowler, J. H. (2012). A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature, 489, 295-298.

In the Press

Science Daily