back to article Can Facebook influence an election result?

Facebook was in hot water this May over allegations of a liberal bias in its “Trending” topics feature. This was not the first time Facebook had been accused of covertly meddling with politics. In 2012, Facebook took heat for tweaking the news feed of 1.9 million users for increased political content. And in 2014, following a …

  1. Richard 81

    "If Facebook can control millions of votes [...], is that still democracy?"

    This question doesn't seem to bother the mainstream media, so why should it bother Facebook?

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: "If Facebook can control millions of votes [...], is that still democracy?"

      Readers of mainstream media tend to flock to a paper that reflects their own views and expect a degree of bias anyway.

      For example if you read The Guardian, you probably vote Labour or Green. If you read The Times, you probably vote Tory, if you read The Telegraph, you vote Tory or UKIP.

      People who get their news through Facebook are less likely to have an interest in politics and are likely to be easily swayed one way or the other.

      Trend a load of articles about, say, how mean the tories are, and those people will vote against them. Trend a load of articles about how profligate Labour are and people will vote against them. Etc

      1. Steven Roper

        Re: "If Facebook can control millions of votes [...], is that still democracy?"

        "People who get their news through Facebook are less likely to have an interest in politics and are likely to be easily swayed one way or the other."

        Says the person who has obviously never used Facebook...!

        Once, I used to use it so I could keep in touch with my family, since they all used to use it. The main reason I stopped using it was because of the never-ending stream of political diahorrea everyone kept pouring out on there. I'd a thousand times rather be treated to a constant flow of cats, babies, dinners, and Like-and-OMG spam than the torrent of political garbage, fights and arguments that I got treated to.

        My family has always been very loving and close-knit. Facebook was the only thing in existence that raised the possibility of threatening that closeness.

        Never. Again.

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: "If Facebook can control millions of votes [...], is that still democracy?"

          I was talking exclusively about people who get their news from Facebook.

          I use Facebook and I'm very accustomed to reading other peoples political views. Those aren't the people I'm talking about.

    2. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: "If Facebook can control millions of votes [...], is that still democracy?"

      >why should it bother Facebook?

      Because facebook probably doesn't care about the election result, but if it got caught influencing things, or appearing to influence things, it may lose the goodwill of organisations and people who voted the other way. In a close election, it could annoy half its US users.

      Other media isn't (pretending to be) "infrastructure."

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "If Facebook can control millions of votes [...], is that still democracy?"

      Indeed, some elements of the mainstream media are happy to brag about how much influence they've exerted on elections.

      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/33/It's_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It.jpg

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "is that still democracy?"

      It wasn't before Facebook. A representative democracy requires informed voters, After Snowden it should be clear to all that the governments of the five eyes does not have a level of transparency that would make that possible. Worst yet those same governments have levels of mass surveillance that makes democracy impossible.

  2. SW10
    Holmes

    Do the math(s)

    Millennials are more likely to vote Clinton:

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/540686/choice-of-millennials-between-electing-trump-or-clinton-in-2016-us-presidential-election/

    Millennials are more likely to use Facebook:

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/187041/us-user-age-distribution-on-facebook/

    Couple with that the fact that the button could be rolled out geographically in certain states...

    (Disclaimer: I am no more than interested observer and have no voting rights in the US election.)

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Do the math(s)

      The young vote to the left. That's hardly a new concept.

      1. SW10

        Re: Do the math(s)

        The young vote to the left.

        I think you're answering a different question.

        That's hardly a new concept.

        Not at all.

      2. Steven Roper

        Re: Do the math(s)

        "The young vote to the left. That's hardly a new concept."

        I seem to recall reading a quote along these lines, which went something like this:

        "Show me someone under 30 who is a conservative, and I'll show you a person with no heart. But show me someone over 30 who is a liberal, and I'll show you a person with no brains."

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: Do the math(s)

          This quote has been around for quite a while in a lot of variations and has been attributed to a lot of guys and their uncle.

          It seems to be based on something John Adams said.

          1. ratfox Silver badge

            Re: Do the math(s)

            There is related quote from Mark Twain:

            "There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist, except an old optimist"

        2. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Do the math(s) 4 Stephen Roper

          Show me someone over 30 who votes and I'll be astounded.

          They stay home in droves here. The much celebrated "more than 50% who voted for Bush was, in fact, slightly more than 25% since about half the country couldn't get excited enough over either candidate to stop eating crisps and get off the sofa. I understand that ony 30% of the Columbian electorate voted on the "shall we end the civil war?" question. Brexit turnout wasn't 100% either, though the regional figures I've seen suggest more engagement with the process.

          1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

            Re: Do the math(s) 4 Stephen Roper

            I am one of two sixty-somethings in a household, and we both vote. Assuming that one registers promptly at 18, and ceases to make it to the polls about 80, one would expect the median age to be about 50. It does look a bit younger than that at my precinct, but the median age isn't under 30.

            To be sure, you won't be seeing an "I Voted" button on my Facebook page, because I don't have one.

        3. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Do the math(s)

          Although both US options are to the right (from a non US person perspective)

    2. tr1ck5t3r

      Re: Do the math(s)

      Studies show young and poor vote left, old and rich vote right. Of course thats without getting into the issue of politics is more complicated than just simple left and right. No one party represents me, but the Bread & Circus game gives me little choice in the popularity contests which claims to represent me when its a law unto itself.

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Can Facebook influence an election result?

    Maybe - the jury is still out on whether the politicians can influence anything.

    We'll all be sitting here in the US without a pot to piss in and the politicians will still be slinging insults at each other. Listening to them (again last night), I'm left with the belief that - come November - we're just going to have to vote "against" - not "for"

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Can Facebook influence an election result?

      I'm left with the belief that - come November - we're just going to have to vote "against" - not "for"

      And that is exactly what US politics is about. It's not about "I have answers", it's about "the other guy is to blame". This election will go down as one of the worst for this and we, the electorate, have no one to blame but ourselves. We don't want the solutions as they usually cost money or inconvenience. We want blame placed. Even the "solutions" made end up as "blame". Intellectual discourse, debate, are a joke at this point. The meaning of a debate has been bastardized into mud-slinging and mis-direction.

      And yes, we're getting it from both sides so defending one's candidate in this is folly as they are all guilty.

  4. wikkity

    How many click they voted

    but just couldn't be arsed to go to the polling station.

    1. Geoff May (no relation)

      Re: How many click they voted

      Or the other way round?

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: How many click they voted

      Wrong question.

      How many click they voted while having faked their age to subscribe to F***book as adults while in reality being underage.

  5. Patched Out
    Facepalm

    Can't think of a good one

    How many will click the button then think they just voted?

    /sarcasm

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Can't think of a good one

      Probably a far larger number than I'm comfortable with.

    2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Can't think of a good one

      If they're stupid, they'd vote Labour. Maybe this will partially make up for Labours postal vote fraud.

    3. Oddbodd

      Re: Can't think of a good one

      Sarcasm that feels all too close to the truth. of course, if anyone's that dumb, I'm glad they don't exercise their real vote.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course it can.

    Facebook is full of braindead idiots that can't be bothered to fact check anything.

    Brexit was won on "Facebook Facts" essentially.

  7. Pompous Git Silver badge

    If voting changed anything...

    ... they'd make it illegal.

    Emma Goldman

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If voting changed anything...

      And that's why the United States has been passing voter ID laws, shutting down polling stations, and purging voter rolls. Voting isn't illegal yet, but given enough time a crooked Congress can overturn amendments and roll the country back to colonial era voting rules.

  8. Swarthy Silver badge

    Fools on the left of me

    Jokers on the right

    Here I am

    Still expected to vote.

  9. DougS Silver badge

    Voter turnout has a liberal bias

    The higher the turnout, the better for democrats it is, because those who register republican are more likely to actually vote than those who register democrat - probably because republicans tend to be older and older people are more likely to vote. Thus, there is a correlation in elections where the higher the overall turnout the better the democrats do, at least on a national level.

    So if Facebook merely presents the "I voted" button to every one of its users in the USA, without trying to slant it by party, age, or any other factor, I'm sure in certain quarters it would be claimed they were trying to influence the election.

    Though I wonder if that would be true for this election, which is unique in that both candidates have record high unfavorability ratings, so most people casting a ballot for Trump are doing so because they hate Hillary, and vice versa. Greater turnout might induce more reluctant republicans to vote against Hillary than the reverse.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: Voter turnout has a liberal bias

      Or, as I hope - More people will turn up to vote for the "lesser of two evils" and see that there is a third option. They may not know who this guy is, but "He can't be any worse than TweedleDumb and TweedleDumber". And someone who is not party to the partisan race to the bottom may stand a chance. Or at least screw things up enough that the election goes to the House, as no candidate has the Electoral Votes required to win. - And the House can't pick anyone worse than the current line up of Punch and Judy.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        If it is thrown to the House, Trump wins

        The only chance of the election going to the House would be if the race is super tight, and Johnson wins Utah. He has no chance in other states.

        I think it is dangerous to assume that if the election was thrown to the House that they wouldn't pick Trump. You might wish that sanity would prevail and they'd pick an actual adult like Paul Ryan, but that's very unlikely IMHO.

        Here's how the process would work when the republican majority House members met behind closed doors to determine their strategy:

        1) Some actually support Trump and would signal their intention to their colleagues that they are voting for him no matter what

        2) Some would believe it is wrong (or feel it is bad politics that could cost them their next re-election bid) to choose someone that didn't even run for President, or perhaps ran but wasn't nominated, and would signal their intention that they feel forced to vote for Trump

        3) A few might think that way but dislike Trump so much that they'd signal they would vote for Hillary over Trump (especially if they were lame ducks and didn't have to worry about political repercussions - at least two retiring house republicans have already announced their support for Hillary over Trump)

        4) Due to worries that splitting the votes between Trump and Ryan would send Hillary to the White House, the plan to choose someone other than their nominee would be discarded and enough republicans would get behind Trump that he wins

  10. cageordie

    You mean progressive?

    Liberal means weak and limp wristed. What you should be saying is Progressive. Forward thinking. Trying to make positive change.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: You mean progressive?

      Liberal means weak and limp wristed.

      No it doesn't. It means: "favouring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform."

      Origin: Middle English: via Old French from Latin liberalis, from liber free (man). The original sense was ‘suitable for a free man’.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: You mean progressive?

      Many republicans used to consider themselves liberal under that definition, until the meaning got twisted to be "opposite of conservative" and they did such a good job of making it a four letter word that liberal democrats now call themselves progressives.

  11. LaeMing Silver badge
    Trollface

    Sorry... That stock image!

    I couldn't resist!

    http://aggro-gator.com/?=136063

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is no democracy..

    With all the money in politics, coupled with the disgusting neoliberal ideal of most sp*nktrumpets in politics, there is no democracy. There has never really been democracy.

  13. Elf

    If Television Can Influence An Election, Should That Be Legal?

    My mother said once 'Son, there is such a thing as stupid questions, do not think otherwise. You will remember this conversation some day.' ...

    Hi Mom!

  14. Grunchy

    Clinton vs Trump vs Some Third Option

    The electorate are already being controlled by media who loudly trumpets that any third option vote is a wasted vote, or a vote for Trump.

    Not so fast!

    With two exquisitely unappealing candidates for President you would think people would be clamouring for a third option, and yet they are not. That's the influence of the media for you, and that's the work of decades and decades of programming, to convince people to not ever vote alternative / independent.

    My challenge for Democracy:

    allow the NEGATIVE vote. Yes you can vote for candidate 1 or for candidate 2, or even (if you're communist or queer or criminal or deranged) for candidate 3. But what if I hate all of them?

    What if what I really want is to vote AGAINST CANDIDATE 1!!!!! I demand to cast a negative vote.

    The reason I say this is the challenge for Democracy is because: if we the people are allowed to cast negative votes, there is an excellent chance that nobody gets elected.

    Think of this: then all of those reject candidates are eliminated and a new election called.

    That's my version of election reform!

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