A new study has revealed that comments about candidates on Facebook have impact on potential voters.
When Facebook users see favorable comments on the social media site about a political candidate, those opinions positively influence their own views of the politician, while unfavorable comments have a negative effect, according to the University of Delaware researchers.
That influence occurred even though the research participants weren’t Facebook friends or even acquaintances of the commenters. In fact, the commenters — like the candidate himself — didn’t even exist.
The research team, consisting of faculty and students from the departments of Communication and of Political Science and International Relations, created a Facebook page for a fictitious candidate using general and nonpartisan “information” about him.
Delawareans selected as a test group were sent an online survey, asking them to look at the page and then rate their impressions of the candidate. Some of the recipients saw a page with two fictitious supportive comments, while others saw two challenging comments.
The research found that those who saw positive comments or “likes” had a more favorable perception of the candidate and were more likely to support him, while those who saw the negative comments had more unfavorable perceptions.
Whether the candidate responded to the comments had no effect on how he was perceived.
Researcher Paul R. Brewer said that this showed that people trust comments from their peers more than they trust self-generated comments from the candidate, adding that it’s the idea that what other people say about you is genuine, perhaps unlike what you say about yourself. So comments from some random person on the Internet do shape citizens’ perceptions.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Political Science.