Facebook wants YOU to vote

Before talking about today’s topic, I would like to share with you guys an interesting piece of news I read this weekend – it actually has much to do with last week’s discussion. A group of Japanese engineers aim to develop a flying car. The project is being led by the group “Cart!vator”, founded by the scientist and researcher Tsubasa Nakamura. Their idea is that the car is able to drive through the streets, having the ability to take off and land back on the street. If this project is actually concluded, it will be shown in Toquio’s National Stadium in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games!!! (Let’s wait to see if 2020 finally brings us flying cars!)

Moving on, today’s discussion was a really interesting one. It focused on the Internet and the process of voting/elections. This was extremely relevant as US elections will happen soon on the 8th of November (a very exciting time for Americans, I would say!). The readings and the discussion were not only interesting because of the new content I learned, but because I was able to learn more about the voting process in the US. The voting process in Brazil is extremely different to the US. Firstly, voting is compulsory: each and every person has to vote. The discussion about whether voting should be obligatory or not came up several times during the seminar, and, in my opinion, I believe voting should never be obligatory. People should always have the right to vote, but also the right to not vote if they do not want to, or feel they don’t have enough information. In countries like Brazil, where poverty and social inequality are very high, making voting an obligatory process means that many people who might not even know how to read or write, or might have no information on candidates/the government, will be forced to vote. These types of decisions can affect the overall outcome of the election, which will affect how the country is ruled and governed.

Voting in Brazil is also done through machines. There is huge skepticism to voting electronically. I, myself, am skeptic too. How will you ever know what happens to your vote? What if that data could be manipulated to change the whole outcome of the election? As I learned today, the US system employs the form of voting by paper ballots in some states. These paper ballots are, in a way, a method of “proving” your vote, to make sure it is counted right. It is much harder to affect an election where people vote by paper than electronically, were data could be changed and erased.

Our discussion also went along to talk about how Facebook has impacted elections until today. The articles we read showed us how Facebook was able to manipulate elections. Not only did this involve the “I Voted” button, but Facebook also controls what you see on your news feed. They can control what you see by looking at what you usually search for, your likes, your political views, your friends, etc. Even though you might think Facebook “shows you everything”, in reality, Facebook shows you what they want you to see. The paper “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization”, found that in the last election, about 20 percent of the users who saw that their friends had voted also clicked on the “I Voted” button, compared to 18 percent of the people who didn’t get the “I Voted” message from their friends. That is, positive social pressure caused more people to vote (or at least to tell their friends they were voting). These statistics show how much influence Facebook can have, on such an important event, whose result affects the future of a country. Should we be concerned about this?

The question that was brought up during our conversation that most intrigued me was whether Facebook was showing us a prejudicial feed, or if they were just reflecting our own prejudice. Would there be a way to tell? Facebook has tools that can figure out your preferences, but are these targeted ads based on how you would vote anyway? When I think about people already made decisions about their vote, I would suggest that the ads wouldn’t have such an impact. However, if you think about an undecided/uncommitted person,  these ads could have a much greater influence on deciding their vote. Targeting is, therefore, influential, but would it be a deciding factor in elections?


One thought on “Facebook wants YOU to vote

  1. Thank you so much for bringing the international perspective to this week’s discussion. It was really helpful to hear a materially different approach and your experiences.

    In addition to your questions at the end of your post, does it matter that Facebook isn’t an obvious channel for one or the other party? US citizens get phone calls, callers at the front door, political ads on tv, etc. meant to influence their votes. The difference is that it is easy to tell that each of these things is coming at you from a particular political position. Do you expect this or think about this when you are interacting with Facebook?

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