How Facebook Could Skew an Election

Open Facebook today and you’ll see a public service announcement of sorts.

“It’s Election Day,” proclaims the text. “Share that you’re voting in the U.S. Election and find out where to vote.”

Then Facebook offers you a button to do that sharing: “I’m a Voter.”

To entice you to Vote (or, at least, click that button), Facebook listed a couple friends’s names and some profile pictures, and told me that 1.8 million other people had already done the same. (Which is a little staggering, since polls hadn’t even opened on the West Coast yet.)

This civic-minded setup has become an election-day tradition on the website. Some form of the “I Voted!” button has appeared on the page for every major U.S. election since 2008. You vote, then you tell Facebook about it, exhorting your friends to engage in their civic duty.

These buttons, though, have also always been part of experiments. The voting button in 2010, for instance, was part of a study later published as “a 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization.” That study found that the voting button could shape who actually voted to a significant degree: If you’re told your friends have voted, you’re 0.39 percent more likely to vote than someone who hasn’t. Facebook believes that in 2010, its election-day module was responsible for more than 600,000 additional votes.