Ronnie05's Blog

Facebook: Walls have Ears (and why not to take them for granted)

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on November 14, 2011

Facebook’s 800 million users with an average of 3 posts per day are generating volumes of information- mostly personal, but also brand led, economy led, social led, political and other behavioral trends that define the world today. Think tanks, medical researchers and political scientists are using the site to study everything from health issues to social trends as expressed in Likes, Wall posts and Status Updates. With over 800 million active users adding an average of three pieces of content per day, the Facebook “data supernova” is generating a research boom, driving the number of academic papers with the site’s name in the title up almost 800% over the past five years. Facebook’s stash of personal information is so encyclopedic that the researchers, social scientists and marketers could simply use the site’s advertising tool to pinpoint their desired demographic with scientific accuracy — the way marketers have been doing for years. Facebook with all its huge data bases provides a precision targeting tool with a direct approach to consumers.

However, the problem with all this is that of privacy. Facebook’s users know the site is watching them, whether they like it or not — the trade-off for being able to chatting with lovers or writing innocuous wall posts is that the site is able to mine users’ personal information. Not a lot of Facebook users even think about the fact that a researcher or a marketer is looking at their profiles. As far as they were concerned, it was just between them and their friends. Then there’s the question of methodology. Even off-line, there’s no guarantee that a research subject is being completely honest. On Facebook, it’s impossible to know how much of a user’s profile information and Wall posts are true. What you say on Facebook and what you do outside of Facebook are two completely different things. Which is why, many researcher and scientists still think a clipboard and a pen are still the best research tools anyone can use. There’s no substitute for going into the real world and speaking to real people. Social research is supposed to be about the social — and a hell of a lot of the social still takes place offline.

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