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Angry on Facebook = Good for Campaigns?

- March 8, 2011

How do you make someone more likely to click through on a political link offering more information on Facebook? Make them angry!

At least, that’s the answer proposed by University of Michigan Ph.D. candidate Timothy J. Ryan in a “paper”:http://cess.nyu.edu/conferences/3-2011/papers/1.pdf presented last weekend at the “4th Annual NYU-CESS Experimental Political Science Conference”:http://cess.nyu.edu/conferences/3-2011/index.php. Ryan embedded a series of advertisements on the Facebook page of “Barack Obama’s Facebook Page”:http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/barackobama, inviting interested respondent to click through on a link for more information. The content of the advertisement was kept constant across all respondents, but the emotional tenor of the add was varied. The result? Anger made respondents 2-3 times more likely to select the link than either anxiety and anger combined or no emotional trigger. Here’s the paper’s abstract:

bq. Recent work on emotions in politics has the potential to clarify what the explosion of new media sources means for the strategies politicians use and the information citizens receive. Past scholarship finds anxiety to increase information seeking, but has inconsistent expectations for a separate emotion common in politics: anger. In a new type of field experiment, I induce feelings of anger and anxiety and passively measure the effects on information seeking. Across three studies, I find anger to increase information seeking, a result inconsistent with some standing theories. When anger is evoked along with anxiety, however, information seeking does not increase relative to an emotion-neutral control, a result at odds with past findings that anxiety motivates attention and interest.

This result should be of interest to practitioners and scholars alike. But the paper is also extremely valuable for providing an illustration of the types of experiments one can conduct using Facebook (and “Mechanical Turk”:https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome, which Ryan used to verify his manipulation) for extremely low costs: the whole field experiment cost only around $400!

Moreover, Ryan – by his own admission – has only scratched the surface of what can be done within the confines of the experiment he conducted. In particular, this experiment ended once the respondent clicked on the link. Clearly, the possibility exists to track behavior on whatever website the respondent is redirected to. For example, it may turn out that angry respondents are more likely to click on the initial link, but less likely to be interested in donating money (or signing a petition, or seeking out information that conflicts with their position, etc.) All interesting potential topics for future research.

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