"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.

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