With just a day left before the closely watched general election in Britain, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats was the winner of a mock election held on Facebook, with 42 percent of the vote. David Cameron of the Conservative Party came second with 31 percent, while Gordon Brown of the Labour Party finished in third with 27 percent.
A total of 463,000 votes were cast in a home page polling ad displayed to people in the UK who visited Facebook over the bank holiday. The result was not intended to represent the voting population of the UK, but be a snapshot of the opinions of those who responded.
The mock election was just one in a series of UK election activities happening for the first time on Facebook. At the time of the last British election in 2005, Facebook wasn't available to most people in the UK, while other social networking sites and services were in their infancy.
In 2010, however, Facebook has more people in the UK using it than the total number of votes cast in the last general election. In recent weeks one question has been asked by almost everybody in Britain: What would the impact of the online world be on the political views of the British public?
We'll soon find out how closely the Facebook mock election matches the real one, but since the election was called on April 6, we already have seen people in the UK and around the world flock to Facebook and other sites to get informed, share their opinions and even rate the candidates' debate performances.
To help people join the debate, we launched Democracy UK on Facebook. This Page, which has more than 160,000 people connected to it, has posted a constant stream of serious and light-hearted news and discussion, including question-and-answer sessions with notable journalists providing a range of opinions. Democracy UK also hosted two applications—VoteMatch and My Vote Advisor—to help people determine which party and policies they might most closely align with.
Rating the Debates
While televised debates between political candidates are commonplace elsewhere in the world, this year saw Britain's first experience of them. The TV debates were an historic moment. More than 80,000 people logged on to use ITV's Livestream, which enabled people to post updates alongside the live online streaming of the debate on the ITV website, while thousands of additional people did the same on the Sky News website.
UK broadcasters, though, had restrictions on the type of audience reaction they could show during debates. So we gave people an opportunity on the Democracy UK on Facebook Page to interact with each other and discuss the debates while also giving real-time feedback on the performance of the party leaders. Through the Rate the Debate application, people could participate in a real time "dial test," clicking on a moving dial to indicate their feelings about what was being said at that moment in time and seeing aggregated results (as shown below).
In addition, in partnership with YouTube, Facebook crowdsourced questions from potential voters that were then put to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Questions were sourced using an application hosted at Democracy UK on Facebook and on YouTube's dedicated election channel.
The result? Party leaders answered the most popular questions based on more than 180,000 votes on the more than 5,300 questions submitted. See the answers by clicking the "Digital Debate" tab on Democracy UK.
Getting Out the Vote
In Britain voters had to be registered by April 20. Research suggested that about 3.5 million people who were eligible to vote in England and Wales were not registered. In response, Facebook and the Electoral Commission worked together to create a new application, enabling the 23 million people using Facebook in the UK to download a personalised voter registration form. The effort increased voter registrations by thousands in a matter of days.
Whether you're in the UK or not, you can follow tomorrow's election by liking the Democracy UK on Facebook Page for more updates and joining future election debates for your country.
Richard, Facebook's director of policy in Europe, is a recovering politician.