Social media studies are misleading, according to study

Social media has revolutionized the behavioral sciences. Now, social scientists can use individuals’ social networks to gather large amounts of data, which can then be mined to uncover how groups of individuals think or behave.

According to a press release from McGill University, “A growing number of academic researchers are mining social media data to learn about both online and offline human behavior. In recent years, studies have claimed the ability to predict everything from summer blockbusters to fluctuations in the stock market.”

However, two computer scientists, Juergen Pfeffer and Derek Ruths at McGill University and Carnegie Mellon University respectively, have recently published an article in the journal Science warning that these datasets may be misleading researchers. The scientists write that there are biases inherent to gathering information on various social media platforms, and these shortcomings must be corrected or acknowledged when publishing studies using this data.

As Pfeffer tells Phys.org, “Not everything that can be labeled as ‘Big Data’ is automatically great…But the old adage of behavioral research still applies: Know Your Data.” Still, Pfeffer acknowledges that the attraction of using this data, however flawed, can be very strong. He continues, “People want to say something about what’s happening in the world and social media is a quick way to tap into that…You get the behavior of millions of people—for free.”

Still, Pfeffer and Ruths directly address many of the challenges of interpreting this data in their article. For example, different social media platforms (i.e. Pinterest vs. Facebook) attract different users. For example, Pinterest has mostly female users aged 25-34, thus making generalizations about human behavior from data collected from this platform is likely to lead to biased results.

There are a number of other serious challenges when interpreting social media datasets. For example, as described in the McGill press release, “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.” As well, “Researchers often report results for groups of easy-to-classify users, topics and events, making new methods seem more accurate than they actually are. For instance, efforts to infer political orientation of Twitter users achieve barely 65% accuracy for typical users—even though studies (focusing on politically active users) have claimed 90% accuracy.”

These challenges and shortcomings are not limited to interpreting social media data, but are well known in other fields such as statistics and epidemiology, among other fields. As Ruths tells Chris Chipello of the McGill newsroom, “The common thread in all these issues is the need for researchers to be more acutely aware of what they’re actually analyzing when working with social media data.”

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Atif Unaldi

Setting up the BBS system enabling the communication of two persons over telephone lines when he was a student at the Physics Department at the Bosphorus University, Atıf Unaldı established the first Internet connection in Turkey. He achieved a “first of its kind” type project again in Turkey by making an Internet and information program at Radio D (Radio Club) named “Farenin Kuyrugu” (The Tail of the Mouse) between 1992-1994. In 1994, he prepared, presented and produced a nightly live show,”RadyoNet”, appearing five weekdays on Kanal D. This was the first program consisted of live computer pictures from beginning to end. Atıf Unaldı was the General Director of the first Internet server in Turkey, Anadolu.Net, between 1994-1996. Being the supervisor of the World Air Games I in 1996 and 1997, he registered the sportsmen into the games over the Internet and Intranet. In 1998, he also became the Internet supervisor of the Sabah Group, and worked as a consultant in the project to sell Sabah Kitapları (Sabah Books) over the Internet. In the same year, he continued to write at his column (Yeni Ufuklar-New Horizons) in the .Net magazine, which was a publication of the Milliyet Group. In 1999, he was appointed as the webmaster in Ihlas.Net, and he also designed and administered it. In the very same year, he wrote at a column in an IT magazine, Pcweek of the Sabah Group. In the meantime, founding a web-design company, Artmedya, Unaldı prepared an Internet magazine talk show program for BRT, GeceNet, which he presented with Romina Ozipekci. Later, continuing to write in his column in the magazine, Canteen of the Aksam Group, Atıf Unaldı gave web-design lectures in the Ceramic Department of the IU. Leaving his position in Canteen upon the establishment of the Interporbil Group, Unaldı has been a columnist in the economy magazine, EkoTimes. At the moment, Atıf Unaldı is the columnist in the Computerlife magazine. He has been also a columnist in Finansal Forum newspaper every Wednesday. Being the brand consultant of Buybye.com, Unaldi produced and presented a programme, TRON, in Technology Channel. As of December 2004, becoming the IT Director of Star Media Group, Unaldi carried out the editorship of STARTEK supplement of Star newspaper. Currently being the Internet Director of Kanal D and Star Tv, Unaldi also produces the Technorock programme in Rock Fm. Being one of the founders of the group called Sitebuilders supported by Microsoft, Unaldı has been organising conferences, seminars and panels concerning “Web-design”, “mobile Internet”, “e-trade” and “advertisement in the Internet” with the group. The group has been successfully providing the persons and organisations with its free educational studies. Published Books 2006 Netizen ( Internet Dictionary ) The contests he participated as a juryman: 2002 - Altın Örümcek Web Contest 2003 - Altın Örümcek Web Contest 2004 - Grafi2000 Flash Animation Contest 2004 - Altın Örümcek Web Contest 2005 - Altın Örümcek Web Contest 2006 - Web Marketing Assotion - Web Awards His published articles: The Structuring of the Internet in the Information Society of Turkey, Yeni Turkiye Dergisi (The New Turkey Magazine), March 1998 Web-design criteria, Yıldız Technical University Publication, 1994 Conferences, Seminars and Professional Activites: 1999 - Informing the sitebuilders and e-trade and web-design seminars in Microsoft headquarters (Istanbul) 1999 - Web-design, e-trade, Media Technologies seminars within Microsoft (Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Konya, Antalya) 2000 - e-trade seminars within Kosgeb (Ankara) 2000 - e-trade seminars in the Fatih University (Ankara) 2000 - The Bilgi University Internet seminars (Speakers: Microsoft Turkey General Director Sureyya Ciliv, Atıf Unaldı) 2000 - Within the framework of the IT 2000 activities, e-trade and web design seminars (Istanbul) 2003 - PRCI Turkiye (Istanbul) 2003 - Wireless Forum ( İstanbul) 2003 - ODTU ( Ankara ) 2003 - Mobiliz.biz ( İstanbul ) 2004 - PRCI ( İstanbul) The softwares he translated: 1996 - Windows Commander 2000 - Babylon Internet Dictionary 2002 - Sitepublisher Softwares: 1992 - The installation of two radio automation systems (Radyo Kulup and Radyo C) (1995) 1994 - The software of two computer programs (Crossword and Puzzle) which were played with the participation of the television audience at Kanal 6 television. 1996 - The Turkish version of a program called Windows Commander 1998 - A computer software enabling the automation of the TV advertisement department The organisations he is the member of: WSP (Web Standards Project) A global organisation Sitebuilders Microsoft ASP Guilt A world organisation Isoc (Internet Society) A world organisation Mobiliz.biz Mobile Advertising Platform CehTURK

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