This Facebook Feature is Driving Voters to the Polls

June 18th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

There's new evidence that Facebook is having a direct and substantial impact on voting patterns.

Just look at the U.K., which will hold a referendum on June 23 over whether it should remain in the European Union. The Friday before the deadline to register to vote on June 7, Facebook pushed out a notification that appeared at the top of users' News Feeds, urging them to register, The Atlantic reports.

Online voter registration skyrocketed on Friday, especially among young people, the demographic most likely to use social media, according to the Pew Research Center.

voter registration

The U.K. government reports that about 186,000 people submitted registration applications online — almost twice as many as were logged the previous day.

Now, there's no way to prove that Facebook alone drove this surge in registration. But the correlation is strong, bolstered by the fact that applications were primarily submitted online and by U.K. citizens under 35. It's also consistent with previous data on the effect of Facebook's voting notification feature on registration rates.

A 2012 study found that an additional 340,000 Americans turned out to vote in the 2010 U.S. congressional election specifically because Facebook reminded users to vote with an election day message posted at the top of their News Feeds and also included profile pictures of friends who had voted.

"The social message, the researchers estimate, directly increased turnout by about 60,000 votes," according to Nature. "But a further 280,000 people were indirectly nudged to the polls by seeing messages in their news feeds, for example, telling them that their friends had clicked the 'I voted' button."

Though social media tends to get a bad rap — because it distorts our lives and changes our brains — this is an example of how it could be used for good.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the U.K.'s referendum on staying in the European Union was held on June 7. In fact, that vote will not be held until June 23. The deadline to register to vote was June 7. The story has been updated; we regret the error. 

RELATED: Who Would Be President If Facebook Decided?