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Facebook's Voting Reminder Message Isn't Working

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, November 6 2012

Recent research suggests that Facebook's messaging can boost turnout, but the message wasn't showing up for everyone today

Facebook announced Tuesday that it is featuring its "I'm Voting" Election Day reminder at the top of account holders' news feeds, which is designed to encourage the public and their networks of friends to go and vote. Anecdotal evidence, however, indicates that the app is buggy and isn't working as intended for everyone.

Facebook's US Politics page explains:

"Today is Election Day in the United States and Facebook is committed to encouraging people who use our service to participate in the democratic process. As a result, Facebook is focused on ensuring that those who are eligible to vote know where they can cast their ballots and, if they wish, share the fact that they voted with their friends.

Similar to 2008 and 2010, U.S. Facebook users older than 18 will see a message at the top of their News Feed reminding them that it is Election Day and to go vote. The Facebook message will also contain a link to the Facebook Polling Place Locator (http://bit.ly/Fbppl), an application that lets users find out where they can vote. The app was developed with data from the non-partisan Voting Information Project (http://votinginfoproject.org) and is a joint project of VIP, Facebook and Microsoft.

We also will employ several social features that let people on Facebook encourage their friends to participate in Election Day.

Users older than 18 will be able to click an "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter" button and post a story to their Facebook Timeline telling their friends that they have voted. This will also appear in their friends’ News Feeds. Individuals will also see the faces of their friends that have already shared that they are voters and a real-time counter will display the number of people in the United States who have clicked the button."

The experience of a few of my own network of friends in Washinton D.C. and New York City, as well as others at techPresident's HQ, and comments on this story at TechCrunch indicate that the message is not showing up for many voters and Facbook's 160 million account holders in the United States, and even when it is, once clicked upon, the commitment isn't showing up on users' Timelines, and it isn't showing up on their friends' newsfeeds. The promised timeline isn't showing up either.

"I was just on a Webinar with Katie Harbath on FB and she was touting the feature... but it should be on my timeline and I should see folks using in my newsfeed... but neither is happening," said Alan Rosenblatt, the Center for American Progress, and the CAP Action Fund's associate director for online advocacy.

The seemingly minor snafu may have significant implications: A study released mid-September suggested that Facebook's 2010 Election Day messaging, which was the same as today's messaging effort, may have been responsible for turning out an additional 340,000 votes. The study found that the voting messages broadcast by individuals were most effective on their networks of close friends, which confirms previous historical research findings in this area.

A source at Facebook said that some users will see different buttons, and others might not see the message at all, and that people have been randomly selected and placed in control groups as part of ongoing research by Facebook's data team.

But that's not what Facebook is advertising. Rather, the company says in its Election Day post that its explicit goal is to ensure that "those who are eligible to vote know where they can cast their ballots and, if they wish, share the fact that they voted with their friends."

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