A new study out of the University of Delaware shows that Facebook comments affect opinions about political candidates. When Facebook users see positive comments about a political candidate, they feel positively about them. And negative comments make them feel negatively about them.
Whether or not the candidate themselves comments in the thread didn't have an effect, which suggests that the opinions of peers matters more to social media users than messages coming directly from a political candidate.
"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," writes Ann Manser in Udaily.
A test group were sent an online survey, that asked 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," writes Manser.
It may seem logical that positive comments make people feel positively and the reverse. So why do a study?
"A social media campaign is practically obligatory for candidates today, and the key to social media is that it's interactive; it's not one-way like traditional political advertising," said Paul R. Brewer, professor of communication and of political science and international relations and director of UD's Center for Political Communication (CPC). "We wanted to test this interactivity between the candidate and citizens."
"Candidates have long used carefully orchestrated social cues, from endorsements to photo opportunities to stage-managed public events, in their efforts to persuade voters that they are riding a wave of popular support," the researchers concluded in their journal article. "The increasing use of [social networking sites] by voters provides candidates and other actors with new tools for projecting images of popularity or unpopularity in ways that may carry electoral consequences."