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Experiments in Social Media

by   Toby Walsh, et al.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter permit experiments to be performed at minimal cost on populations of a size that scientists might previously have dreamt about. For instance, one experiment on Facebook involved over 60 million subjects. Such large scale experiments introduce new challenges as even small effects when multiplied by a large population can have a significant impact. Recent revelations about the use of social media to manipulate voting behaviour compound such concerns. It is believed that the psychometric data used by Cambridge Analytica to target US voters was collected by Dr Aleksandr Kogan from Cambridge University using a personality quiz on Facebook. There is a real risk that researchers wanting to collect data and run experiments on social media platforms in the future will face a public backlash that hinders such studies from being conducted. We suggest that stronger safe guards are put in place to help prevent this, and ensure the public retain confidence in scientists using social media for behavioural and other studies.


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