This year, 6,931,105 people shared on Facebook that they were voting. Facebook created a real-time map showing where users were clicking the “I’m A Voter” button and The Washington Post turned it into an animated GIF. The button was quite popular–at one point users were clicking it at a rate of 358,000 per hour.
Official turnout is still being tallied, but based on current estimates, the number of people who said “I’m a Voter” on Facebook is about 8.4% of turnout in the 2014 midterm. Of course, not everyone who clicked the button actually voted and there are plenty of voters who either don’t use Facebook or chose not to click the button. Nevertheless, on November 4th, almost 7 million people told their friends that they vote.
Since 2008, researchers at Facebook have experimented with providing users an easy way to share with their friends the fact that they were voting, and Facebook scientists have studied how making that information social–by placing it in their peers’ feeds–could boost turnout. Based on testing in 2010, Facebook claims the sticker–and the peer pressure–caused 340,000 more people to vote in that election. (Full paper.)
There has been some investigation of the social and psychological benefits of political participation (see Nonprofit VOTE’s Benefits of Voting series). Recent research (like the Facebook experiment above) also suggests that social dynamics can affect political participation. “Why People Vote: Estimating the Social Returns to Voting” by Gerber, Huber, Doherty, and Dowling measures the “social rewards” associated with voting and found that “information about whether a person votes directly affects how favorably that person is viewed.” Basically that people like people who vote.
Facebook is not the only social media platform focusing on political participation. Twitter’s Election 2014 Dashboard allowed users to “connect with the candidates, add your voice to the discussion, see what’s driving the real-time election conversation in your community, and follow relevant Twitter accounts.”
This social aspect of voting is not new. The zeal for collecting and proudly wearing a physical “I Voted” sticker has a well-documented history. Additionally, in get-out-the-vote experiments, personal face-to-face interaction with friends, family, and other familiar, trusted messengers have long been recognized as the best way to boost turnout. With the advent of online communities, it seems that our “personal” interactions may have even more reach.