Photo Credit: socialmediaheaven.com
Sam Gosling, a psychology professor at University of Texas at Austin, has discovered that using the means of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, can be just as convenient as studying Psych 101 students. Gosling has discovered that people have more of the tendency of expressing their real personalities on social media networks rather than idealized versions of themselves.
“We no longer have the excuse of relying on self-reports of undergraduates,” Gosling say. “We can now reach out to other groups and see the actual electronic traces of their behavior.”
Melissa Lee Phillips of the American Psychological Association reports Gosling’s research and the negatives of using social media as a part of research. Phillips discusses the most popular issue of social media first; privacy and confidentiality. The argument is that using a bit of information from Facebook could bring into question of the author’s consent. However, according to Emily Christofides, a social psychology PhD candidate at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, the information you post on facebook is “technically publicly available.” Another snag regarding privacy and confidentiality is after gathering consent, there still can be the issue of researching a friend profile of the author that did not allow permission for their content to be used.
Accessing Data is another problem for researchers when using social media in their studies. Phillips centers on Facebook for this particular topic and how it’s terms of service aren’t as accessible for researchers. But they’ve found ways around it. For instance, creating a page and having study participants like it so they can look into their profiles and gathering access by asking “study participants to download summaries of their own data.”
It’s become more apparent that gathering information automatically is the better way to gather information as social media sites have the right to change their software and conditions overnight. Gosling comments, “A study of Facebook a year ago is no longer relevant to what Facebook can do now. Researchers need to be aware that, without warning, their research can be derailed.”
Demographics in social media can also tamper with studies in research as they change constantly, but it can help the study of human behavior as studies have shown that teenagers stop using facebook as frequently when their parents join, and jealousy increases in relationships when both partners have facebook. Studies of human behavior through social media have also increased with smart phones using social media as major components in their software.
Gosling says, “We can find out what people are doing, where they go and why, how they communicate, what music they listen to, what emails they send, what they’re interested in, what they take photos of,” he says. “With addition of smartphones, social media uses for psychologists are going to explode.”