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Facebook 'poke' got out the vote to the tune of 340,000, research suggests

PARIS -- A single Facebook message on a congressional election day in 2010 prompted about a third of a million more Americans to cast their vote, scientists said on Wednesday.

The biggest-ever experiment into social networking confirms that peer pressure in cyberspace helps get out the vote in the real world, they said.

On Nov. 2, 2010, 60 million Americans who logged onto Facebook saw a nonpartisan prompt at the top of their newsfeeds.

It comprised a message that said “Today is Election Day”; a clickable “I Voted” button; a link to local polling places; a counter on how many Facebook users had already reported voting; and up to six pictures of close Facebook “friends” who said they had already voted.

A further 600,000 people were assigned to see a modified message. It was identical in all respects to the first, except that it had no pictures of friends who had voted.

A third group, also comprising 600,000 people, were a comparison, or “control.” They did not receive any “Today is Election Day” prompt at all.

The researchers then examined how the Facebook users behaved.

By looking at public records from polling stations — but without revealing the identity of the voter or how they voted — the scientists estimate that those who received the informational message or no prompt voted in the same prevalence.

Where there was a difference was among the group that got the prompt along with the pictures of friends who had voted.

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