Posted by David Harley on May 7, 2015.
As a UK citizen on the day of a general election, I’m not suffering from a lack of advice on voting. Some of my Facebook friends are urging me to vote for one party or another, others are just anxious that I should vote. Kevin, on the other hand, is anxious that none of us should vote. And while I’m not really a supporter of the “Don’t vote, it only encourages them…” view (though I remember a time when I was more naïf and optimistic enough to think that was funny rather than a defensible argument), he makes several entirely rational points. Voting in accordance with a self-maintaining system that is so resistant to fundamental changes to its own mechanism does indeed ‘legitimize the status quo’ rather than offer a threat to it.
But what am I to make of this?
Facebook encouraging us to be responsible citizens? After all, the ‘More Information’ button points us to party-neutral information about the electoral process in the UK, and today’s election in particular. (Incidentally, despite the close-me button in the screenshot, I wasn’t able to close this monstrosity until I hit the “More Information” button, whereupon it disappeared. Presumably, clicking on “I’m a Voter” would have had the same effect. I suppose that might have been a system glitch or my mouse wanting to be sure I exercised my right to vote for cats to be culled.) I guess Facebook might have been influenced by the fear that Kevin’s revolution would have a negative impact on its bottom line. It’s probably more likely that this is the latest demonstration by Facebook that it is able to implement an ‘exercise in experimental psychology, attempting to influence some of its subscriber’s emotions by manipulating their newsfeeds.’ Sorry, I’m quoting myself again. And I may as well go further by quoting from the same article:
…the real value of the research to Facebook was not the (methodologically unsound) results but the sense that it is prepared not only to monitor and share its subscribers’ data, but to change their behaviour.
At that point, I was talking mainly about an experiment in manipulating the emotions of Facebook subscribers, as described here, but much the same applies in this case. It’s not that Facebook is really interested in pure research, more that it needs to convince its real customers that it is able to influence the behaviour of its subscribers.
Well, I suppose it influenced mine. Not only did I eventually click on one of its wretched buttons, but I went on to write about it here. But when my action is recorded, it won’t actually take any account of my real motivation. I’d rather eat glass than have Facebook tell everyone I know that “I’m a voter”*. And I like to think that I know as much as most people about the electoral process. I simply figured that I ought to see what that button went before I wrote about it. But now I guess I’m just one atom of proof that Facebook has something to sell.
*Even though I don’t mind sharing with you that I actually voted several days ago, being one of the 15% of UK voters with a postal vote. I guess I need to take full advantage of that ability before UKIP takes the reins and bans postal voting on demand, apparently because they claim it’s easier to rig an election by postal voting (or is it?), though I don’t think they’ve offered any evidence of that assertion. But then, electioneering isn’t about evidence, it’s about being loud.
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