Marijuana Made Me Do ItIn 2010, I volunteered my web media skills in support of California's Proposition 19 campaign to legalize cannabis and was astounded to find myself embedded with some of Facebook's headiest honchos. If I was going to participate, I had to dive in, Facebook first.
The Prop 19 website crew consisted of many 19+ year old young men with ties to Facebook and me, a fifty-six year old woman. But what contrasted even more for me in this situation was how my web team mates worked, coding on the fly. It was a Facebook "move fast and break things" approach that didn't have much use for my "user testing before release" method. So I took direction well, made site content updates, produced promotional video spots, and accepted Facebook's culture.
By the time Proposition 19 made it to the ballot in 2010, decades of political battles had reduced the most influential drug law reform players to a small handful. For various reasons, including timing and ego, none of them were willing to back the campaign at its start. So it was essentially the work, vision and funding of one person, Richard Lee, that sustained it.
Lacking adequate financial support and given the fact that 2010, as a mid-term election, would likely have a small voter turnout, the chips were stacked against a win for Prop 19. Undaunted, a David versus Goliath "whatever it takes" attitude permeated the Oakland campaign headquarters. Rather than costly printed posters and advertising, we relied on person to person canvassing, heavy telephone calling, and lots of Facebook organizing that focused on believing it would be Prop 19's savior.
In the midst of a high profile political campaign, promoting itself through FB Likes, Pokes, and Shares, I got to observe a constant stream of random interactions with the application and noticed that the interface arrangement could vary from one day to the next and even from person to person. I witnessed real life misunderstanding and hyper-emotion about Comments, Likes and Shares. The UX designer in me kept whispering that this felt like some kind of testing scenario. A few years later, I discovered that my intuition was accurate.
Facebook's heavy involvement in the Prop 19 campaign was part of a test around influencing voter turnout. News that the experiment took place wasn't publicly disclosed until 2012 when the results were published in the science journal, Nature, then carried internationally. A PDF of the report is free to download.
UC San Diego News
The researchers did not find any evidence of differences in effects among self-described liberals and conservatives.
Research is now continuing on what kinds of messages work best for increasing voter participation and what kinds of people are most influential in the process.
Although the effect of the message per friend was small, Fowler points to the advantages of scale. When you multiply a small effect across the millions of users and billions of friendships in online social networks, you quickly get to numbers that make a difference.
“The main driver of behavior change is not the message – it’s the vast social network. Whether we want to get out the vote or improve public health, we should not only focus on the direct effect of an intervention, but also on the indirect effect as it spreads from person to person to person.”
As I've highlighted above, the power of "network effects" was demonstrated in this voter turn out test in 2010, yet in 2016 Mr. Zuckerberg scoffed at the idea that Facebook could influence an election.
Mark Zuckerberg says the notion that fake news influenced the U.S. presidential election is "a pretty crazy idea."
....The problem, he says, is that people don't click on things that don't conform to their worldview. And, he says, "I don't know what to do about that."
Zuckerberg Denies Fake News On Facebook Had Impact On The Election
All Tech Considered - NPR Nov 2016