Social Media in Politics with Facebook Maneuver


From canvassing voters door-to-door and holding rallies to direct mail campaigns and television ads, there is no shortage of ways for politicians to reach potential voters. These days, however, modern campaigns have also relied heavily on social media platforms, hoping that the peer-to-peer message delivery will help cut through the clutter and be more compelling than typical campaign rhetoric.

Facebook in particular has presented politicians with new ways to not only reach, but also target voters. The Obama campaign created a Facebook-based app during the 2012 election cycle that used its users’ Facebook friend lists to determine which of their friends needed to be contacted the most before Election Day. For example, it might pull information from Facebook users living in particular swing states or counties.

On November 17, Facebook announced that it will turn off the key function that allowed apps such as the one described above to work. This change will prevent campaigns from being able to skim friend lists, making it more difficult, but not impossible, to map relationships and mine for potential voters using social media.

Why did Facebook make this change? Facebook is not opposed to political campaigns using its platform, but the site prefers campaigns to utilize its paid advertising service. While it is not yet clear how effective paid Facebook ads are in affecting election results, other aspects of Facebook’s persuasive powers are less questionable.

During the 2010 midterm elections, Facebook experimented with an “I Voted!” button which increased voter turnout by 340,000. A different experiment in the 2012 election presented a group of Facebook users with more hard news prior to Election Day. That group turned out to vote three percent more heavily.

These types of experiments are not going anywhere – even if their impacts have yet to be fully proven. This means that not only will questions of privacy keep coming up, but campaigns, and even corporations, will continue to use social media to find ways to reach their target audiences. As digital communications and social media continues its rapid growth while maintaining its credibility – even as traditional media outlets are losing theirs – we can expect to see more, not less, of these new ways to communicate in the months, and campaigns, to come.