Facebook 'I Voted' button experiment: praiseworthy or propaganda?

Facebook is helping to boost voter turnout with an 'I voted' button in the news feed of users. Is this social experiment really helpful or does it hide ulterior motives? 

Facebook screengrab

If you posted Facebook’s “I voted” sticker on your wall congratulations, you were part of the most recent social experiment being conducted by the social media giant. The goal: Can users be nudged to vote by saturating their news feeds and offering propaganda stickers as rewards?

While the word ‘propaganda” may seem harsh, the dictionary definition is one of a double-edged sword. 

“The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person,” says Merriam-Webster

Some publications, including Mother Jones last Friday, pointed out the down side of manipulation as it discussed how Facebook has conducted numerous social experiments on users without their knowledge in recent years.

In this instance, it may be hard to argue against the promotion of higher voter turnout. In 2010, a similar Facebook "I voted" button produced a slight boost in voter participation. But Mother Jones points out that Facebook’s experiments have also included efforts to manipulate the moods of users by altering their news feeds.

In June, Forbes reported that “Facebook conducted a massive psychological experiment on 689,003 users, manipulating their news feeds to assess the effects on their emotions. “

The results of this experiment were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America under the title, “Experimental Evidence Of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks.”

Basically the report said that the social media giant took liberties with users’ news feeds in order to see how peer pressure might affect mood.

“Now, Facebook says it has finished fine-tuning the tool, and if all goes according to plan, on Tuesday many of its more than 150 million American users will feel a gentle but effective nudge to vote, courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg & Co,” according to Mother Jones. “If past research is any guide, up to a few million more people will head to the polls partly because their Facebook friends encouraged them.”

It may be hard to argue against a social experiment that produces greater participation in a democratic system. But underlying this effort is what some may consider a less-than-forthcoming approach.

The Forbes story raised the question of how this type of manipulative study data might be used to influence people to make purchases of products, which advertisers are paying Facebook to promote.

Facebook may feel that the ends justify the means in this scenario. It is up to subscribers to ultimately decide if the use of a free social media platform is worth the price they are increasingly, unwittingly paying as test subjects.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Facebook 'I Voted' button experiment: praiseworthy or propaganda?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today