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Social Networks Can Affect Voter Turnout

We all know social networks can create fads and influence behavior, but a recent study published by Nature shows that social networks can and do impact voter turnout. The study was done by showing messages to Facebook users when their friends voted, with a picture and the text “get out the vote”. The page reminded users that today was election day and gave an option to say you also voted. The study was divided groups of 600,000 people, one which was given pictures, one without pictures, one that had the text, and one without the text as a control. This study concluded that because of the effect of social networking, observed by the increase in voter turnout in the groups affected by the Facebook information, had generated 340,000 extra votes.

As the New York Times pointed out in this article, “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”. Of the 340,000 extra votes, only 60,000 were directly influenced to vote by the message, while the remaining 280,000 votes were due to friend of friend relationships, or what they called “social contagion”. The fact that the effect of friends of friends was so powerful in this case strengthens the idea that social networking can have a positive impact in many areas.

The scientists who conducted the study believe their impact can have implications such as dieting. Specifically related to voting, I also think social networking can be a valuable tool to encourage and aid people in getting involved in the entire political process. As we’ve seen many times, social networking can create or popularize trends, but it can be a powerful tool used not only to spread information, and in this case actually motivate people to do something positive. Social networking can bridge the virtual world and the real world, and the possible rewards of using this well can be extremely valuable.




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