Votes on Facebook

The polling stations for the UK General Election 2010 have closed, the exit poll predicts a hung (some call it “balanced”) parliament, a loss of seats of the Liberal Democrats, and a Conservative party only a few seats away from a majority. The first MP has been announced — Sunderland South, a safe Labour seat, but with a swing to the the Conservative party that, if extrapolated to all of England, would probably translate into an outright Conservative majority. As-is, I’m listening to the usual speculations in the absence of hard data, about alliances of the Lib Dems with Labour, or maybe the Tories with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionists. It’ll be a long night.

Meanwhile, a different titbit. All day, my Facebook page has had this box right above my “Wall”:

The number on the right has been going up in real-time all day. It is the number of Facebook members that have hit the “I voted” button. This is, apparently, a Facebook feature that is switched on for users from a country during elections in that country, as I learnt after clicking on “What’s this?”.

The first interesting point about this is the figure. It’ll probably go up a little further during the evening, and I’ll be curious to see where it ends up. The number of registered voters is given in the press as 44 Mio. If the turnout ends up at about 75%, that means that 33 Mio. people will actually vote. Out of those, nearly 2 Mio. will not just be on Facebook, but engaged enough with this site (or product) to click on “I voted” on election day. That’s about 6%. Not at all negligible.

The second point that comes to mind is the surprise that I’m only discovering the feature today, even though it was visible to, and presumably being used by, friends of mine when there were elections in their countries. I may even have voted in at least one of those (the last German Bundestag election). It would be interesting if Facebook managed to publicise at least the results elections internationally through such a tool.

As for me, I clicked “I voted”, even though in reality I only voted in the local election that’s taking place today in my borough as well: Being an EU citizen, I am not allowed to vote for UK parliament. Strangely, if I were a UK resident from a Commonwealth country, it would be much harder to live and work here, but I would be allowed to vote.

Facebook mail: commenting on your photos makes you female

Over the last few days, Facebook quite clearly seemed to be upgrading its email notification components. This is what I concluded from the email from @facebookmail.com I found in my own mailbox: Because of some personal circumstances, I happened to post more often to my Facebook account than I usually would have, and more importantly received more comments. Comments are sent to my Gmail account as per my chosen Facebook settings. What I found, however, was that not all comments were being forwarded, and some of those that were appeared in the mailbox up to about 15 min after they showed up in the Facebook user interface.

Some performance glitch, I thought. But today the email notifications became somewhat creative. Here is a screenshot of the notifications of today that contain the text “also commented on” (I have covered up last names to protect my friends’ privacy):

Screenshot: Facebook notifications with gender confusion
Screenshot: Facebook notifications with gender confusion

There are two types of notifications: For comments on status updates and for comments on photos. Each can be done by the original poster (of the status update or the photo) or, more often, by someone else. To see the problem better, here are the update notes for comments on one’s own photos and status updates:

  • Ned also commented on her photo
  • Ned also commented on his status
  • Michael also commented on his status
  • Mike also commented on her photo
  • Jason also commented on his status

When I first saw this, I wondered on whose photo Ned had also commented on.

I haven’t follow Facebook’s UI choices in-depth, but Facebook used to use the singular “they” in their notifications, even if  the user’s (self-described) sex or gender was known. So what we can suppose happening here is that they’re reducing the use of singular “they”, and producing some glitches in the process. I checked: both Mike and Ned indicate their sex as male in their Facebook profile. So Facebook is currently reassigning a female gender to posters who comment on their own photos. What I don’t know is if women get reassigned to male.

The issue only shows up in email, that I could see. On the Facebook, Ned is male:

Status update note in the Facebook user interface
Status update note in the Facebook user interface