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Social Media and the Recent Election

Social media is the perfect environment to study information cascades and its effects upon decision-making. In a recent study published in the Nature science journal, researchers describe the effects of advertisement in encouraging people to vote. The study shows that young people, who are both more likely to vote democratically and use facebook, are more likely to vote if shown pro-voting ads and informed about the voting behavior of their friends. This study explores the idea of information cascades, or simply the idea that people who see that their friends have voted are more likely to vote as well.

The researchers used a randomized trial on election day that involved displaying advertisements on the facebook pages of over-18 facebook users. The advertisements did not support one candidate or the other but simply displayed either an informational message encouraging people to go vote or else an interactive advertisement that queried the user about whether or not they had already voted. If the user interacted with the interactive ad then the results of his/her choice would show up on the wall of friends in his social network. The study determined that facebook users that were targeted by the social ads were more likely to vote than those targeted by the non-interactive informational ads, who were in turn more likely to vote than the control group that saw no ads.

This study shows the effects of information cascades on motivating voter turnout. The researchers emphasized that “efforts to influence behavior should pay close attention not only to the effect a message will have on those who receive it but also to the likelihood that the message and the behavior it spurs will spread from person to person through the social network.” While this particular type of targeted advertisement did not promote any particular political party, it is clear that online herding behavior will be a powerful deciding force in future elections as campaign propaganda becomes more prevalent in social media.

Sources:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7415/full/nature11421.html

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