Facebook’s Social Study

In 2010, Facebook did a social study involving 61 million Americans that use Facebook. The social study participants had no idea that they were subjects to a social experiment study. As soon as people logged into their Facebook accounts, they saw a banner at the top of their newsfeed that said today is election day with a picture encouraging people to vote. Or they saw the same banner but with tiny thumbnails in the corner of the banner of photos of some of their friends that said, “I Voted.”

The banner was only seen once in 2010 by people then disappeared. By doing this social study experiment, Facebooked manipulated 340,000 into voting that coming election. The 2016 election was won within about 100,000 votes. Seeing one Facebook ad once could determine who becomes president and who doesn’t. Facebook easily has the power to swing any close election in any country they want to without anyone knowing.

The Facebook experiment happened in the United States on November 2, 2010, on election day. Unknown participants who logged into Facebook were over 18 and put into one of three groups.

The first social study group had approximately 611,000 Facebook users (1%) who had received an informational message at the top of their news feeds that encouraged people to vote. The message had a link to where to find local polling places. It also contained a clickable ‘I voted’ button along with a counter of users who clicked it.

Facebook Informational Message

The second social study group included 60 million Facebook users (98%) who got a social message with the same elements as the first group. In addition, it showed up to six randomly selected Facebook friends user’s profile pictures who had clicked the ‘I voted’ button. Finally, the third control group with the remaining 1% of users received no message.

Researchers would then compare the groups’ behaviours online and match 6.3 million Facebook users with the available public voting records to determine which group were most likely to vote in real life.

The results indicated that those who received the informational message voted at the same rate as those who saw no message. However, users who had seen the message had a 2% greater chance of clicking the ‘I Voted’ button. In addition, they were 0.3% were more likely to search for information about a polling place than those who got the informational message and 0.4% more likely to vote than the other two groups.

The researchers found that the social message directly increased voter turnout by 60,000 votes. In addition, another 280,000 voters were indirectly encouraged to vote by seeing a message in their newsfeed from friends who shared the ‘I Voted’ button. So one ad seen only once on Facebook potentially has the power to determine who gets elected. Facebook did this social experiment over 10 years ago now. I wonder what other social experiments they have done or are trying right now that no one knows about?

Facebook is just one of many huge powerful tech companies that track everything their users do. I wonder what other tech companies are doing with our information? If tech companies weren’t allowed to track users’ information, they would lose at least 50% of their entire profits.

Facebook User Data

Sources:

 https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2012.11401

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