Experiments in Social Media


  • Toby Walsh National ICT Australia Ltd.




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 dreamed about. For instance, one experiment on Facebook involved more than 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 behavior 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 safeguards are put in place to help prevent this, and ensure the public retain confidence in scientists using social media for behavioral and other studies.

Author Biography

Toby Walsh, National ICT Australia Ltd.

Knowledge Representation and Reasoning Group Program Leader




How to Cite

Walsh, T. (2019). Experiments in Social Media. AI Magazine, 40(4), 74-77. https://doi.org/10.1609/aimag.v40i4.2868