23 October 2015

Facebook Comments Matter

Welcome back. I’m glad you’re here. I was hoping to get your opinion.

Do you use Facebook? Do you ever give or receive comments? Well, University of Delaware researchers found that comments on the Facebook Page of a political candidate influenced users’ perception of the candidate even if the users didn’t know the person who commented.

Facebook like, comment or
share. (Multiple websites)

Facebook Friends’ Influence

I suppose it’s not surprising. Though it’s not quite the same, not too many years ago researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Facebook demonstrated that Facebook users could influence friends to vote.

You might remember that study. The researchers randomly assigned all U.S. Facebook users over age 18 to one of three groups. On the day of the 2010 congressional elections, they sent an informational message to users in one group and a social message to users in the second group. Users in the third group were not sent any message.

The informational message encouraged the users to vote, gave a link to information on local polling places and offered an “I voted” button with a counter of those who clicked it.

The social message was the same as the informational message, with the addition of profile photographs of as many as six of the recipients’ Facebook friends who had clicked the “I voted” button.

Based on the online behavior and publicly available voting records, the researchers found no difference between Facebook users who received the information message and those who received no message. But users who received the social message that featured friends were 2% more likely to click the “I voted” button, 0.3% more likely to check the polling place link and 0.4% more likely to vote.

While those numbers may not impress, when the researchers added the number of friends contacted by recipients of the social message, the numbers jumped. For every direct recipient of the social message, four people were indirectly influenced to vote.

Effects of Strangers’ Comments

In contrast to the earlier study, which tapped over 60 million Facebook users, the recent study ended up with 183 users, all from Delaware. For this study, the researchers prepared a Facebook Page to promote a fictitious political candidate whose profile offered only general and nonpartisan information.

They then sent an online survey to a test group, requesting the recipients’ impressions of the candidate. Some recipients of the survey saw the candidate’s Facebook Page with two positive comments; others saw the page with two negative comments.

The study found that Facebook users who viewed the candidate’s page with positive comments or “likes” had a more favorable perception of the candidate; they were more likely to support him. Facebook users who viewed the page with negative comments had more unfavorable perceptions of the candidate.

Of particular interest is that the candidate’s replies to either positive or negative comments did not change how he was perceived. Facebook users judged the candidate’s comments to be less trustworthy than those of unknown yet presumed peers.

Wrap Up

The researchers acknowledge that being asked to view the Facebook Page of a candidate whom you’ve never heard of is very different from what occurs in an actual campaign. Still, they deem their findings to be instructive and a basis for further research.

What do you think? Maybe it’s just me whose acquaintances and Facebook friends scale from socially and politically liberal to conservative. At my level of political awareness and I suppose my age, I can’t imagine being influenced by their Facebook likes, comments, or shared posts, much less by comments from people I don’t know. Can you?

Again, thanks for stopping by.


University of Delaware study in the Journal of Experimental Political Science and article on study on Science Daily website:

University of California, San Diego study in Nature journal and articles on study on both Nature and Live Science websites:

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