University’s Facebook experiment makes political waves

“This will be less of an issue as researchers get better and better at micro-targeting certain nodes in a network, and it does nothing to detract from the key takeaway: social influences may be a much more potent tool for increasing voter turnout than blunter informational campaigns,” Signal wrote.

Interactions with “close friends” on Facebook – friends who were likely close to a Facebook user outside of the social media world – had the greatest impact on voter turnout. Almost all of the voting increase was directly attributable to Facebook users who saw that their close friends had said they voted on the news feed ad.

“The main driver of behavior change is not the message – it’s the vast social network. Whether we want to get out the vote or improve public health, we should not only focus on the direct effect of an intervention, but also on the indirect effect as it spreads from person to person to person,” Fowler said.

Voter turnout during the 2010 midterm election was 37 percent, about 16 percent lower than the 2008 presidential election. Midterm turnout rates are typically lower than in presidential election years.

Maine had the highest voter turnout in 2010, with 54 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. Tennessee recorded by far the lowest turnout rate at 26 percent.

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