Americans using Facebook today will a new message at the top of their News Feeds: “It’s Election Day,” the banner reads. “Share that you’re voting in the U.S. Election and find out where to vote.” So far, nearly 3 million people have clicked “I’m a Voter” after seeing the message, which Facebook calls the voter megaphone.
Of all the things Facebook does, the voter megaphone seems like the most harmless. Get-out-the-vote efforts, especially nonpartisan ones, are generally considered positive. But this isn’t the first election-related experiment the social network has conducted while developing the tool, Mother Jones reported last week. Before the 2012 presidential election, Facebook changed the streams of nearly 2 million American users so they would see more hard news stories at the top. The test was designed to see if your News Feed’s news balance influenced voter turnout. According to Mother Jones, it did.
“Our effort is neutral,” Facebook spokesman Michael Buckley told the New York Times. “While we encourage any and all candidates, groups, and voters to use our platform to engage on the elections, we as a company have not used our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote.”
The network put voter buttons at the top of some News Feeds on Election Day 2012, but the experiment was haphazard. The megaphone appeared on your News Feed at different times during the day, so you may have missed it. Some people didn’t get the button in their feed at all due to software glitches. But this year, everyone should see the voter megaphone. And if 9 million people used the tool to tell people they voted in 2012, even with all its problems, then Tuesday’s election should see much higher participation.
Why this matters: Facebook has proved it has some influence over what you do and how you feel, just by elevating certain types of posts or demoting others. If the network’s data on the voter megaphone’s influence this Election Day shows that people feel compelled to vote based on their friends’ behavior, Facebook could become an essential tool for democracy—which is a little unsettling.