The worldâÄôs most popular social networking website, Facebook, was a predictor for nearly 100 races across the country in the 2010 midterm elections through its candidate âÄúFanâÄù pages.
Facebook tracked 132 Senate and House races, and of those, almost three-quarters of candidates who had more fans on Facebook were also winners of their races.
âÄúVoters are relying more on social media to engage and interact with elected officials, and the same holds true for campaigns,âÄù Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said.
The outcome of one Minnesota race, between DFLer Keith Ellison and Republican Joel Demos for the 5th Congressional District, was predicted by Facebook pages to within a couple percentage points.
Between just Ellison and Demos, Ellison got 75 percent of the vote and had 74 percent of the Facebook fans, while Demos saw 25 percent of the vote and 26 percent of the fans.
This is one example of what University of Minnesota computer science professor John Riedl calls a prediction market.
In a prediction market, the opinions of millions of people are studied to predict what is going to happen.
Some scientists think tools like Facebook are incredible ways to get millions of people together to collect information.
âÄúSome of the predictions [that use the opinions of millions of people] have been really amazing,âÄù said Riedl, who is not surprised by Facebook fan figuresâÄô accuracy in predicting the elections.
Riedl warned that if political candidates realize the potential of Facebook in predicting elections, they may try to mislead or sway voters with the misrepresentative numbers.
This method of measurement does not always hold true, however.
In FloridaâÄôs 8th Congressional District race, Democratic incumbent Alan Grayson had nearly six times more Facebook fans, 30,000, than raceâÄôs winner, Daniel Webster, a Republican, who had only 4,500 fans on Election Day.
The 4th Congressional District race in Minnesota was another not indicated by Facebook fanbases âÄî DFLer Betty McCollum easily beat her opponent Teresa Collett despite having nearly 400 fewer Facebook fans than Collett.
The re-election campaign for McCollum had an official Facebook page that was maintained daily by staff. However, Will Blauvelt, political director of the campaign, said it was not a major factor in its communication effort.
Blauvelt is also unsurprised by the number of races predicted by Facebook, though he attributes this to incumbents who already have a presence on Facebook.
Blauvelt, who said there has been an increased effort to have a presence on Facebook as opposed to previous years, credited it to the natural evolution of social media.
âÄúI donâÄôt think thereâÄôs a question that the use of social media [in elections] is going to continue to grow,âÄù Blauvelt said.
On Tuesday, Facebook users over the age of 18 were able to click an âÄúI VotedâÄù button on their profile page. More than 12 million people clicked the button throughout the day, compared to 5.4 million clicks by users in 2008.