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Social Media Data Contain Pitfalls for Understanding Human Behavior

An article published in last week’s issue of Science highlighted several issues that may arise when using social media data sets:

  • “Different social media platforms attract different users – Pinterest, for example, is dominated by females aged 25-34 – yet researchers rarely correct for the distorted picture these populations can produce.
  • “Publicly available data feeds used in social media research don’t always provide an accurate representation of the platform’s overall data – and researchers are generally in the dark about when and how social media providers filter their data streams.
  • “The design of social media platforms can dictate how users behave and, therefore, what behaviour can be measured. For instance, on Facebook the absence of a ‘dislike’ button makes negative responses to content harder to detect than positive ‘likes’.
  • “Large numbers of spammers and bots, which masquerade as normal users on social media, get mistakenly incorporated into many measurements and predictions of human behavior.”


Read the press release.

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