Can Shaming Your Facebook Friends Get Them to Vote?

Research suggests tagging friends in posts both praising those who vote and shaming those who don’t can increase voter participation up to 24 percent.

By Alexa HartOctober 12, 2016 10:46 am|

There may be a civic virtue in trying to shame people for not voting – or, at least, shaming people online.

According to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin, guilting your Facebook friends may actually have the effect of getting people to vote.

Katherine Haenschen, a visiting scholar at UT’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, says her study found that if you tag your friends in a status update either praising them for voting previously or shaming them for not turning out, that can affect their participation rate.

“Praising your friends for voting previously increased participating by 16 percent,” she says, “whereas shaming your friends because they haven’t voted yet increased turnout by 24 percent… These are percentage point increases larger than what has been generated through canvassing or phone banking.”

As with any form of communication, Haenschen says the direct effects are complicated. Many people get their news through shared articles on Facebook and can use it as a platform to increase civic engagement, but people also get into Facebook arguments and unfriend each other over political disagreements.

“It has a lot to do with who’s in your Facebook network,” she says. “People who have more like-minded networks tend to participate more on the platform and offline, whereas folks who may be friends with more people who disagree with them, they are actually less likely to participate politically on Facebook.”

Haenschen says her research suggests encouraging political participation is most powerful when coming from a friend. Facebook has done experiments with clicking an option to show you’d voted, but those only increase participation by 1 percent.

“Those treatments not only work on the people who are tagged in them – they work on the people who can see, who aren’t directly tagged,” she says. “There’s a bystander effect when you remind your friends to vote using Facebook.”

Post by Hannah McBride.