It might often feel like snarky comments about politics on Facebook have no effect on the real world. But the inverse is actually true, according to a team of political science researchers at the University of Delaware led by Paul Brewer.
They created a Facebook page for a fictitious candidate and populated it with basic, non-partisan information about him, then sent the page to 183 people alongside an online survey. Some saw a page with two fake supportive comments. Others saw a page with two challenging comments.
When asked their opinions of the candidate, those who'd seen positive comments had a more favourable perception and were more likely to support him. Those who saw negative comments had more unfavourable perceptions. Interestingly, whether or not the candidate responded to the comments had no effect on how he was perceived.
Some Random Person On The Internet
"This showed that people trust comments from their peers more than they trust self-generated comments from the candidate," Brewer said.
"It's 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."
He added: "I was surprised that no one had done this kind of study before, at least not in published research."
The results of the study were published in the Journal of Experimental Political Science.