You can now creep on Facebook to see whether your friends are good citizens.
Over nine million people declared their civic participation by clicking on the “I’m a voter” button that Facebook displayed at the top of its home page on Election Day.
The initiative is an attempt to translate traditional concepts of social pressure influencing voting habits into social media. Studies have shown that aggressive pressure techniques — such as telling people which of their neighbors didn’t vote — can greatly improve voter turnout.
On Election Day, people could see which of their Facebook friends said they voted.
“Peer pressure matters greatly: shame at the possibility of being perceived by other people, particularly friends, as a bad citizen is the most important single factor in getting people to vote who otherwise might not,” political science professor Rogers Smith said in an email.
A study published in September showed the Facebook button had a significant effect on voter turnout in the 2010 election. It increased voter turnout by about 340,000, according to a study of 61 million people on Facebook. The most effective results came when people saw that their close friends had voted.
Penn Leads the Vote created its own Facebook campaign to get students enthusiastic about voting.
“We had students come and … fill out their own little placard saying, ‘I pledge to vote,’ and sign their name,” College junior and PLTV Events Chair and Treasurer Russell Abdo said. “We took photos of each student and uploaded them all to Facebook, where they can make it their profile picture or their cover photo.”
He said the group took between 300 and 400 photos.
However, political science professor Marc Meredith, whose research focuses on voter turnout, was skeptical of the impact that seeing whether or not friends voted has on turnout.
“It might not be the people who are watching and seeing that other people voted that are being affected, but more the people who are actually reporting the fact they voted who are more affected in the sense that you can go on Facebook and tell everyone you voted,” he said. “That makes you more likely to vote in the first place.”
In addition, the tools of social media might limit the impact of the message.
“Social media are not as effective as … direct conversations in creating concerns about being seen as shamefully apathetic,” Smith said.
The effect of social media pressure might have been smaller this year because it was a presidential election.
Joe Tierney, the executive director of the Fox Leadership Program, which sponsors PLTV, said social media is typically more effective in primaries and off-year elections.
“Folks knew there was a presidential election, so in terms of motivating people to go to the polls, you didn’t have to inform them there was an election going on,” he added.
Meredith agreed that social media’s best potential involves targeted advertisements for local elections.
Tierney hopes there will be new uses of social media in future elections. “It would be more important to have an ‘I registered’ day than an ‘I voted’ day … because a lot of people on Election Day, especially first-time voters, woke up and realized they couldn’t vote because they weren’t registered,” he said.
“Most young people who registered voted,” he added. “It’s getting them to register that’s a challenge.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.