We all know the power of Facebook, and how deeply embedded this form of social media is in our society. Nowadays, people just assume that everyone has Facebook and is an active user of this social networking site. Facebook has gone far beyond just staying connected between friends and family, and has permeated into the professional and political realm as well. As everyone is aware, elections are coming up, and there is an increasing demand for everyone to go out and vote, especially the younger generation. The article I came across was written by Seth Borenstein, “The Facebook Vote? Users More likely To Go To The Polls When Pressured By Friends”, exemplifies how influential and powerful Facebook can actually be. He shares that in 2010, during the congressional election, a study was done with Facebook researchers and scientists at the University of California, San Diego where they found that those that logged into Facebook and saw that others had voted were more inclined to go and vote. The journal Nature supported this research and found that the voter turnout increased by 340,000 in the non-presidential election, which would impact the results of close elections. On election day 60 million people who were eligible to vote saw some kind of posting about voting when they logged into Facebook. Researchers compared the likelihood to vote between three different categories. There were 611,000 people that got a simple announcement to vote and 613,000 didn’t get any kind of message. These people were less likely to vote than those who were pressured by friends or bombarded by Facebook. Some people are not even aware of voting dates or registrations, and would more likely go out and vote if they were informed. The number of people who voted in 2010 was 38%, an increase from 37% in 2006, and 36% in 2002. Although the percentage may seem small, the fact that Facebook had a significant impact on the increase is notable. James Fowler, a professor at the University of California, San Diego stated, “Our study is the first large-scale scientific test of the idea that online social networks affect real world political behavior” (Borenstein). On voting day, there are several Facebook postings on the election. It becomes a hot topic that people are constantly commenting and updating on. Whether or not people are politically active is not the main focus; when they see a topic being highlighted on the network they continually access throughout the day, their attention is grasped. It increases the voting numbers quite a bit, and it presses forward the “get-out-the-vote push”.
The ability for Facebook, a social networking site, to influence the outcome of a political election is remarkable. It shows just how much social media websites have the ability to influence decisions and cause changes in society. Nancy Baym talks about the different social discourses that media technology brings in her book Personal Connection in the Digital Age. The article supports the discourse that technology has the ability to influence the actions of individuals in society. When people log into Facebook and see these notifications about the election, the impact it has is generally unconscious. We don’t realize that we are getting influenced by these things, and we end up going out to vote without realizing it was Facebook that led us to do so. However, Facebook can also be considered as social shaping and a social construction of technology. Facebook is being used as a medium to spread information to a mass audience. The awareness of something like elections and voting can be sent out to individuals in an instant, and more than that, people who aren’t even interested are forced to see this information. When someone refreshes their newsfeed, they cannot avoid the constant articles about voting on election day. These are ways that people utilize technology effectively and conveniently. Facebook is a convenient way for people to send a message, and, in such a fast paced society, there needs to be quick access to information, and an effective way to reach masses. We respond to Facebook so well because we are active users and we know that information can be available on this site. We are able to access information otherwise, but Facebook makes the search so much easier. There is a give and take going on between Facebook and it’s consumers, which is why social shaping is also taking place. The influence goes both ways; Facebook provides an easy way for a lot of people to get involved and become informed, while those in politics get a greater voter turnout through social media websites like Facebook. We have the ability to post things on Facebook in order to make a statement, or have others see it. In Judith Donath‘s article “Sociable Media” she states how “Persistent conversations among multiple participants are a new phenomena which became feasible on a large scale only with the advent of the computer” which I feel is what allows for this kind of influence to take place. With Facebook, people post things without necessarily needing any kind of response, but it ends up happening anyway. Facebook is something that is asynchronous and does not require people to react immediately, but with the election, just having the message put out there was enough to get people to move.
Though the use of Facebook and other social media networks may not happen for the upcoming election, the success it has brought about cannot be ignored. There are so many topics that I see pop up on my own newsfeed that I would have never read or even thought about otherwise. Whether it is sports events, politics, pop culture, social events, Facebook has become one of the best ways to stay updated. It has the ability to create a community and reach broad audiences. Many times we see Facebook as just a leisurely pastime, and a way to stay connected with others, but it is becoming so much greater than that. As society progresses, social media networks are becoming more powerful, and are capable of making a powerful change.