New York: Even fictitious comments about political candidates posted on Facebook can shape opinions of potential voters, says a study.
When Facebook users see favourable comments on the social media site about a political candidate, those opinions positively influence their own views of the politician, while unfavourable comments have a negative effect, the findings showed.
"A social media campaign is practically obligatory for candidates today, and the key to social media is that it's interactive; it is not one-way like traditional political advertising," said one of the researchers Paul Brewer, professor at University of Delaware.
"We wanted to test this interactivity between the candidate and citizens," Brewer noted.
The influence of comments were seen even though the research participants were not Facebook friends or even acquaintances of the commenters.
In fact, in the research the commenters -- like the candidate himself -- did not even exist.
The research team created a Facebook page for a fictitious candidate using general and non-partisan "information" about him.
Participants were sent an online survey, asking 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.
The research found that those who saw positive comments or "likes" had a more favourable perception of the candidate and were more likely to support him, while those who saw the negative comments had more unfavourable perceptions.
Whether the candidate responded to the comments had no effect on how he was perceived.
"This showed that people trust comments from their peers more than they trust self-generated comments from the candidate," Brewer said.
"It is the idea that what other people say about you is genuine, perhaps unlike what you say about yourself. So comments from some random person on the Internet do shape citizens' perceptions," Brewer pointed out.
The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Political Science.