Digital politics freaks, rejoice! For Science Is On Our Side: according to a study just out in Nature, the messages we post on Facebook CAN have an actual effect on politics. From the abstract:
Here we report results from a randomized controlled trial of political mobilization messages delivered to 61 million Facebook users during the 2010 US congressional elections. The results show that the messages directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people.
Furthermore, the messages not only influenced the users who received them but also the users’ friends, and friends of friends. The effect of social transmission on real-world voting was greater than the direct effect of the messages themselves, and nearly all the transmission occurred between ‘close friends’ who were more likely to have a face-to-face relationship. These results suggest that strong ties are instrumental for spreading both online and real-world behaviour in human social networks.
Pretty cool, eh? These are some of the first numbers we’ve seen that actually measure something that most of us in the digital politics space assume: that online social behavior has discernable effects in the Real World. Note that the study’s results apply to peer-to-peer (friend-to-friend) communications; we’d need to measure the effects of CAMPAIGNS’ OWN online activities separately. More insight:
The results of this study have many implications. First and foremost, online political mobilization works. It induces political self-expression, but it also induces information gathering and real, validated voter turnout. Although previous research suggested that online messages do not work, it is possible that conventional sample sizes may not be large enough to detect the modest effect sizes shown here. We also show that social mobilization in online networks is significantly more effective than informational mobilization alone. Showing familiar faces to users can dramatically improve the effectiveness of a mobilization message.
Want more? The full Nature article is behind a paywall (some little bird dropped a copy in the e.politics bunker, but I can’t share that w/o violating copyright), but a Discover magazine blog has an excellent overview, with context. Can’t wait to see what good data we’ll get out of the 2012 elections — look for some of it to be posted right here on Epolitics.com in the months to come.