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09-12-12, 02:40 PM
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Despite the importance of Congressional representation, barely a third of eligible US voters cast a ballot in the most recent midterm elections. Various get-out-the-vote campaigns have been tried, and many of these have been shown to have a positive effect on voting, but most of them are too focused to reach a large portion of the population. Now, some researchers have tested a method with a good deal more reach: an appeal to potential voters via Facebook. Thanks to the heavy use of that social networking service, the study had the largest experimental population I've ever seen, at 61 million.

On the day of the midterm election, every potential voter who logged in got an ad that encouraged them to vote. And, to a small extent, it workedâ??voting among those users edged up ever so slightly, and was enhanced when their close friends voted. And, given the size of the appeal, this small boost translated to hundreds of thousands of additional voters.

The procedure for the experiment was remarkably simple. Anyone in the US who was over 18 and logged in to Facebook the day of the 2010 election was enrolled in the study. The authors note that this probably makes the numbers they obtained an underestimate of the procedure's effects, since some of these people will have logged in after polls closed.

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