Facebook decides Presidential elections in USA?

In the network of campaign workers

Hillary ClintonFacebook and Google control preferences, emotions and the political decision-making. Algorithms can elections decide because they act as powerful amplifier. What does this mean for democracy?

In sixteen months America tunes. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have thrown their hats into the ring as the presidential candidates, their campaigns run long in full swing: $ 4.4 billion to invest the candidates in television ads, which is as much as ever. If Americans choose on November 8, 2016, but also social networks are the focus. Already at the last election campaign Barack Obama mobilized mainly young voters through Facebook and Twitter. The question is: What impact do social networking on the voting behavior?

As at November 2, 2010 took place the midterm elections, the researchers made an experiment on Facebook. They sent 61 million randomly selected people who lived in the United States and 18 years of age, were a message that reminded her ballot. The message in News Feed was provided with an “I voted” button and a counting unit, which indicated how many Facebook users had already voted by its own account. Part of the notified received addition to this general information and personalized information: which of own Facebook friends had already chosen. And a control group received no information at all.

Low variance makes big difference

The result was astounding: users, which they will vote their friends had been displayed clicked more often on the “I voted” button than those who had only received general information. From this the researchers concluded that “political mobilization in the network can have a direct effect on the political self-expression, information search and voting behavior in the real world”. The user of course did not know that they were volunteers.

But had the self-conception as a voter on Facebook (“I voted”) also affect the actual voting behavior? And how the groups differed here? To clarify this question, the researchers matched the real names to the electoral register from (something would not be in Germany for privacy reasons permitted). Result: The number of users that have been notified of the vote of their Facebook friends, was up 0.39 percent over that in the control group. This takes indeed as small variance from, but it can make a big difference.

Channel selector in a direction

“Our results suggest that the social message via Facebook, the number of participants increased indirectly (in the election) by 60,000 voters and by social contagion by 280,000 voters.” This can be either critical. In the presidential election of 2000 only 537 votes in the state of Maryland were the decisive factors for George W. Bush and against Al Gore. One can of course ask whether 0.37 percent difference between two groups is statistically significant or whether it is “noise”. But the study shows that Facebook has an impact on voting behavior.

The network is a major player in the media industry with 1.4 billion users. One in three Americans informed a study by the Pew Research Center, according to on Facebook. For many, it has become the window to the world. Imagine now that Facebook manipulated the visibility of the “I voted” button on the basis of party affiliation or other variables such as postcode, gelikter links or similar. It would have the effect that it would channelize voters in a certain direction.

Perpetuated self-affirmation

You can continue on the thought experiment still suppose that Mark Zuckerberg would have a preference for a presidential candidate, and in the newsfeed of millions of Facebook users would an election manifesto appear. This would not be directed as in Experiment 2010 a random amount, but targeted to those whose political views Facebook algorithms derived from the likes given. The Harvard researchers Jonathan Zittrain called “digital gerrymandering” by which he alludes to the original gerrymandering: the shifting of constituency boundaries in order to achieve success in the majoritarian system. It is not about to undergo users brainwashed, but to give them a nudge in the “right” direction.