Alumna explores Facebook as tool to increase voter turnout in study

Wesley Story

When students post about voting on Facebook, the FOMO or “fear of missing out” these posts create could inspire others to go out and vote as well.

Katherine Haenschen, a radio-television-film alumna and visiting scholar at the Moody College of Communication Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, authored a study that looked into Facebook’s effectiveness in mobilizing voters. In the study, Haenschen says the findings suggest digital media’s potential in generating large gains in voter participation.

“Where I think Facebook is really powerful is by creating a social norm about what your friends are doing,” Haenschen said. “It’s basically FOMO, but for voting.”

Last week, Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos announced the state registered more than 15 million voters for the upcoming election, a record number for the state, which ranked 48th in the nation last presidential election cycle, according to The Washington Post. 

“Registration is just the first step,” Cascos said in a statement. “I encourage Texans to prepare now for this fall’s election.”

Haenschen’s study focused on the use of social pressure on Facebook to convince people to vote.

Haenschen said she thinks her research offers an opportunity to create a more inclusive and representative democracy by using Facebook to increase voter participation.

“Humans, for better or worse, want to be like our friends,” Haenschen said. “We’re social animals.”

Research indicates a positive relationship between internet use and political involvement in the form of voting and other electoral activities, according to the study.

Bailey Schumm, agency director for Hook the Vote and public health junior, said Facebook has been an important tool for their organization this semester.

“Now that the voter registration deadline has passed, we’re trying to work on getting people to vote as early as possible,” Schumm said. “Being out on the West Mall yelling works to some extent, but Facebook has a greater reach, especially for younger voters.” 

Haenschen said that if young people don’t vote, then the elected officials won’t be as responsive to their needs.

“There’s tens of thousands of undergraduates at UT,” Haenschen said. “If every single eligible student voted, … that could have a huge impact on who is elected locally and even state-wide in Texas, and make sure that that person is ultimately accountable to the interest and needs of students.”

This story has been updated since its original publication.