Facebook ‘likes’ Israeli elections for first time with ‘I voted’ button

Could Facebook’s new feature turn the election?

By
March 17, 2015 19:24
2 minute read.
Facebook debuts 'I voted' button in Israel's elections, March 17, 2015.

Facebook debuts 'I voted' button in Israel's elections, March 17, 2015.. (photo credit: FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT)

 
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Social media has become a central forum for politics and politicking in recent years, but in Tuesday’s election, Facebook became more than just a platform.

For the first time in Israel, it debuted its “I voted” button.

The seemingly innocuous box at the top of the feed simply asks users to click and share with their friends that they have voted, providing links to the Central Elections Committee’s website if they haven’t.

When they do, it lets their friends know.

The feature, however, raised interesting questions when it debuted in the US. Facebook’s business model is based on the fact that people are more to open suggestions from their friends, so they will be more amenable to clicking an ad if someone they know “likes” the product in question.

That should be great news for anyone who believes that strong voter turnout is important; the more people see that their friends are voting, the more likely they will be to vote themselves.

The voter participation rate is an important issue worldwide, and in Israel the hope is that the “I voted” button will make it easier for voters to share the fact that they are participating in the elections, and will serve as a reminder to others to go out and vote,” said Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s government & politics specialist for Europe, Middle East and Africa, when the decision to include the button in Israel was taken.


But the study that confirms the phenomenon, published in Nature in 2012, was based on a Facebook experiment that showed different users different messages or no message at all on Election Day.

Although Facebook shows the button to all eligible voters, the test demonstrates that it could theoretically pick and choose who to encourage to vote, and thus influence an election. That, critics worry, puts an enormous amount of electoral power in the hands of a giant corporation.

Even now, Facebook’s addition of the button could help boost voting among the younger demographic that use it most – who tend to have distinct voting patterns – which means the decision to add it at all could in theory have repercussions for Tuesday’s election.

Facebook, which has also rolled out the feature in the United States, India and the European Parliamentary elections, did not return requests for comment.

As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, however, just 165,000 of the more than five million citizens eligible to vote clicked the button to tell their friends they had done so.

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