Foursquare’s “I Voted” May Change Civic Responsibility As We Know It

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Tomorrow is election day, and many of us are brushing up on politicians and propositions. To help while voting, Foursquare’s unveiling a new function that can help voters everywhere. While at first the I Voted function might just seem like a simple way to get a new badge and tell your friends you voted, the application – and several others like it – may change the face of the democratic process.

On top of easily navigating where the closest polling places are thanks to the Foursquare check-in locations, I Voted can tell you how many people have checked in a certain location. In the future, this could lead to valuable information such whether or not there were lines at certain polling places and if the machines were in working order. Apps like these can potentially lead to faster exit polling results and a breakdown of the different demographics about voters quicker than ever before, on top of the fact that checking in can remind others of their civil duty and encourage them to vote.

“I definitely look at this as a step using the data in different ways,” said Foursquare’s Eric Friedman, who works on the business development side of the company. Ideally, he hopes the information gained by the application on voting day can help eventually help to reveal even more data, such as which communities are active and whether or not politicians are keeping to their word. For example, if a candidate said they are going to visit five districts and end up not checking into all of them, voters can see this information and decide whether or not that person is really interested in getting their community.

As of now, most exit polls employ a person who physically asks voters about who they voted for and about their personal background to create the data we hear on the news. By reporting information from social media apps, the middle man is cut out, and the entire process is sped up. One potential problem could be that the information gathered from these apps would only be gathered from smartphone users, which typically means younger voters, and they don’t represent the majority of the voting public. But, even the traditional method of exit polling has had its own problems due to poor choices of which polling locations to canvas and inaccurate demographic data.

Several websites attempted certain functionalities of polling through online social media during the 2008 elections including Wired, which had an online forum that broke down of which polling locations had problems, and the New York Times, which encouraged readers to respond with words that voiced their mood during the day. However, Foursquare’s user interface already encourages the person to share knowledge about their activities which makes this function perfect for this purpose. Checking in while voting comes naturally to the 4 million users of the application; it’s not an additional task they have to remember to do. This could potentially lead to more participation in exit polling through social media and more accurate information about polling locations, just by the sheer amount of people who voluntarily are willing to report about their experiences.

Friedman adds that to him Foursquare is all about creating an “ambient awareness” of what your friends are doing. No one has the time to catch up on every minute detail of another person’s life, but if you see that your friend checked in at a movie theater or ate at your favorite restaurant, you have certain talking points that you can bring up when you see them next, Friedman said. “It’s not forced conversation,” he explained. “But, specifically with voting, it’s a way to put a stamp on something you did, and say, “I did this, and it’s what I’m all about.'”

Demographics about voting may be one of Foursquare’s “uses” that many wondered about, but with the application still yet to be tested in the real world, it’s too soon to tell if this can become the new way people learn about early election results. Still, it opens the possibility that apps like these may be the key to democracy in the future.

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Social Network: Celebrating the New Digitized, Democratized American Dream