Wednesday, September 12, 2012
By JOHN MARKOFF
New York Times (click here)A study of millions of Facebook users on Election Day 2010 has found that online social networks can have a measurable but limited effect on voter turnout.
The study, published online on Wednesday by the journal Nature, suggests that a special “get out the vote” message, showing each user pictures of friends who said they had already voted, generated 340,000 additional votes nationwide — whether for Democrats or Republicans, the researchers could not determine.
The scientists, from Facebook and the University of California, San Diego, said they believed the study was the first to demonstrate that social networks could have an impact, albeit limited, on elections, and they added that the findings had implications far beyond voting. For example, research is now being conducted on the use of social networks to help people lose weight.
Significantly if not surprisingly, the voting study showed that patterns of influence were much more likely to be demonstrated between close friends, suggesting that “strong ties” in cyberspace are more likely than “weak ties” to influence behavior. And the researchers found an indirect impact from the messages: friends of friends were influenced as well.
“What we have shown here is that the online world and the real world affect one another,” said James H. Fowler, a professor of medical genetics and political science at the university.
On Nov. 2, 2010, the day of the nationwide Congressional elections, nearly every Facebook member who signed on — 61 million in all — received a nonpartisan “get out the vote” message at the top of the site’s news feed. It included a reminder that “today is Election Day”; a link to local polling places; an option to click an “I Voted” button, with a counter displaying the total number of Facebook users who had reported voting; and as many as six pictures of the member’s friends who had reported voting.
But two randomly chosen control groups, of 600,000 Facebook members each, did not receive the pictures. One group received just the “get out the vote” message; the other received no voting message at all.
By examining public voter rolls, the researchers were able to compare actual turnout among the groups. They determined that the message showing friends who had voted was directly responsible for 60,000 more votes nationwide and indirectly responsible for 280,000 who were moved to vote by friends of friends — what they called “social contagion” effect.
Intriguingly, they also discovered that about 4 percent of those who claimed they voted were not telling the truth.
Because only about 1 percent of Facebook users openly state their political orientation, the researchers said they could not determine whether political leanings had any influence on social networking and voting behavior.
The study was financed by the James S. McDonnell Foundation and by the University of Notre Dame’s Science of Generosity Initiative, which is supported by the John Templeton Foundation.
Past studies have shown that a variety of methods for mobilizing potential voters have a disappointing effect. Knocking on doors is the most effective technique; e-mail is one of the least.
While the number of votes generated by the Facebook message was small compared to theoverall turnout (about 90.7 million, or 37.8 percent of the voting-age population), the researchers said it could well have made a difference in individual races. After all, they pointed out, the 2000 presidential election was decided by less than 0.01 percent of the vote in Florida.
By JOHN MARKOFF
"I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."
--George W. Bush, September 20, 2001.
Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, killed in Benghazi
Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed during an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. (Handout /September 12, 2012)
The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three American members of his staff were killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city ofBenghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad, Libyan officials said Wednesday.
They said Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed Tuesday night when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob guns and rocket propelled grenades.
The three Libyan officials who confirmed the deaths were deputy interior minister for eastern Libya Wanis al-Sharaf; Benghazi security chief Abdel-Basit Haroun; and Benghazi city council and security official Ahmed Bousinia.