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Facebook ran voting experiments on millions of users

Facebook ran voting experiments on millions of users
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

When you post links, updates and photos to Facebook, your friends aren't the only ones watching. That's not breaking news, though. I've already told you about Facebook's attempts to experiment on the emotions of unknowing users by manipulating timelines. But, your emotions aren't the only thing the social network is interested in. In the past, Facebook has experimented on voters on Election Day and could have even helped Democrats take the White House.

Facebook changed the content of news feeds by channeling more "hard news" stories to the top of timelines instead of the normal updates and photos from friends and family.

For one such experiment, conducted in the three months prior to Election Day in 2012, Facebook increased the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feeds of 1.9 million users. According to one Facebook data scientist, that change—which users were not alerted to—measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout.

In elections since 2008, Facebook has experimented on users who vote by giving some of them the option to click a button that says something like "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter." The site let certain users click the button and others share that information with friends. Facebook also had control groups. One didn't see the buttons at all and others couldn't share the information with friends. Facebook then studied how this affected voter turnout without users' knowledge.

Researchers at the social media site wanted to measure a few things like how the news stories and voting buttons affected voter turnout of Facebook's users.

Next page: Did  Facebook change voter turnout?
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