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Facebook Rolls Out Voter Megaphone Internationally

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, May 21 2014

(Facebook)

Facebook is rolling out a revamped version of its "I'm a Voter" tool internationally after a successful test run in the recent Indian elections, beginning with the European Parliament elections that run from Thursday to Sunday, and estimates that nearly 400 million people around the world will see the so-called megaphone tool this year.

The tool, which Facebook calls a megaphone, first appeared to American users in the 2008 election when more than 5.4 million people participated, and then in subsequent major U.S. elections, though initially it was only available on desktop, said Katie Harbath, manager for policy at Facebook

A study published in Nature found that in 2010, 340,000 additional people voted after seeing the notification about their friends voting in their newsfeed, and in 2012 over 9 million people said they voted, amounting to 8.6 percent of the U.S. Facebook population. The Facebook Data Science team also found that women and self-identified Democrats were more likely to say they voted, as were fans of Facebook pages for Michelle Obama, Paul Ryan, "Binders Full of Women," and Big Bird.

"This year with 42 percent of the world population voting, and especially in large democracies like India, we really wanted to expand and be able to offer it up in all these major elections that are happening this year and so we did our first test run in India," Harbath told techPresident. Around 4.1 million people used the tool over the nine-stage Lok Sabha elections there.

Given the increase in people who now mainly check Facebook on their phones and Facebook's orientation as a mobile first company, the revamped tool is currently only available on mobile, though Facebook is working on a desktop version to launch later this year, Harbath said. For Europe, the tool will go live at midnight in Netherlands and the United Kingdom as the voting period starts there Thursday.

Based on the success in the Indian election, Facebook also plans to offer the tool for elections in Colombia on March 25, South Korea on June 4, Indonesia on July 9, Sweden on September 14, the Scottish independence referendum on September 18, Brazil on October 5, and of course once again for the U.S. Midterms on November 4.

As Facebook expands the tool internationally, it will likely encounter different cultural attitudes about sharing political information on social media. A 2013 Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism survey found that for example in the U.K. and Germany, only 14 and 13 percent of those interested in political news said they had posted on politics to a social media site. A 2012 Pew study in the U.S. found that 34 percent of social media users had posted their own thoughts or comments on political or social issues, 31 percent had encouraged others to take action on a political or social issue and 35 percent of social network users had encouraged others to vote.

Harbath emphasized the tool is about spreading awareness about election day. "We're not specifically asking them to share who they voted for," she said. "Even in a place like Brazil, where voting is mandatory, we still do want to show the megaphone to remind people that it's Election Day. We think it's not only important to remind people that they need to go and vote but to still share that action with friends and to [stimulate] discussions."

She emphasized that refining the tool is an ongoing process for Facebook and that there could be other adjustments to the tool by the time of the U.S. Midterms. "I would still put this in the beta-testing phase. We are trying to learn from each election how users are using the megaphone," she said.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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