How you vote is your own business, but whether or not you vote is public information. For the first time, that public information will be shared using the velocity of the Internet and the reach of social networks.
The activist group Fight for the Future—which earlier this year organized the successful online blackout protest against copyright legislation known as SOPA and PIPA—is making voting information available on a massive scale as a way for Facebook users to pressure their friends to go to the polls. Their new app, called Vote With Friends, uses information from political-data firms Catalist and Votizen, to match social-network users to voter files.
“It’s about public shaming,” said Josh Segall, a Fight for the Future spokesperson. “It’s about the ability of someone to say to their friends, ‘I want you to vote this time, and if you don’t vote, I’m going to know that you didn’t vote.’ ”
The effectiveness of public shaming in ramping up voter turnout was established in a 2008 paper describing a large-scale social experiment by Yale University political scientists Alan Gerber and Donald Green. Individuals who were notified by mail that their neighbors would be informed if they failed to vote turned out at the polls at a much higher rate than those who didn’t receive this message.
After the Nov. 6 election, the Vote With Friends app will give Facebook users information about whether their friends voted. It’s also possible to add in historical voting information, although that’s not currently part of the mix. Facebook users don’t appear to have a mechanism for withholding their voter information, because it is a matter of public record and not Facebook data (which is subject to the social network’s array of privacy controls). Facebook users who are bent on keeping their voting history private face the options of de-friending anyone who uses the Vote With Friends app or abandoning the network altogether.
That said, matching Facebook names with voter lists isn’t anywhere close to 100 percent effective. Various apps that have tried to match voter file information with Facebook profiles report anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent success.
President Obama’s reelection campaign has mashed up voter files and Facebook’s social graph as a part of its online efforts, but his team is playing a lower-key version of the shame game. The campaign has sent e-mails notifying supporters about their social-networking contacts in battleground states who may not be registered voters and has asked for help in nudging these folks to register.
Planned Parenthood and the activist group Rebuild the Dream launched the app to their members on Thursday. Segall said that a few Republican-leaning groups are considering rolling out the app before Election Day, but he did not disclose specifics. The app allows groups free access to a high-tech get-out-the-vote apparatus, and lets them flex their political muscles by showing the number of votes they helped drive.
The potential reach of the launch is vast. Planned Parenthood has more than 360,000 "likes," which means that news of its launch could wind up in the feeds of 30 million to 40 million Facebook users. Fight for the Future is planning to hit 250,000 supporters via e-mail with news of the app, and the group estimates that it could eventually reach 25 million Facebook users.
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