TORONTO: Behavioral scientists use social media to quickly and cheaply gather huge amounts of data about what people are thinking and doing but researchers at Canada have found that those massive data sets may be misleading. The design of social media platforms can dictate how users behave and, therefore, what behavior can be measured.
Most researchers are left in the dark, though others with special relationships to the sites may get a look at the site’s inner workings. The rise of these “embedded researchers,” Ruth’s and Pfeiffer said, in turn is creating a divided social media research community.
Other questions about data sampling may never be resolved because social media sites use proprietary algorithms to create or filter their data streams and those algorithms are subject to change without warning.
Such erroneous results can have huge implications as thousands of research papers each year are now based on data gleaned from social media.
The design of social media platforms can dictate how users behave and, therefore, what behavior can be measured.
In an article published in the journal Science, researchers also noted that not all “people” on these sites are even people. Some are professional writers or public relations representatives, who post on behalf of celebrities or corporations, others are simply phantom accounts. Some “followers” can be bought.