Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Social media data mining takes a new twist

I’m regularly amazed by the number of people who insist that I must belong to Facebook because, otherwise they say, I’m missing out on something really important. Most of these people are quite rational but they have been so consumed by the pervasiveness of Facebook that they feel not being a member leaves you out of very important social interactions.

My response has been that I tried it a few years ago, was not terribly impressed with it and closed up my account, although I now suspect that whatever information I had uploaded to Facebook is sitting somewhere on their servers waiting for me to return like the prodigal son to take my place among the legions of members.

It is precisely that data mining aspect of Facebook that turned me off to the process. I realize there is a price you must pay for the ability to see twenty six pictures of the new puppy but for me, the price was too high. There are enough data banks out there now scouring every purchase I make, likely every e-mail I send and every online banking transaction I do. I don’t need to contribute to yet another one that makes uncertain use of the data it harvests from its members.

A recent study from the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland raises even more questions. The HCIL says that potential employers are now using data collected from Facebook pages to make decisions about potential employees. At one time employers were using a brace of psychological profile tests to rate potential hires, now they apply the same analytical processes to Facebook sites, doing very accurate personality assessments based on what the online profile offers.

A recent study predicted a person’s score on a personality test to within ten percentage points by using words posted on Facebook.

There were all sorts of things that came out. People who tested positive as extroverts tended to have more Facebook friends, but the friendships were superficial – perhaps not unlike real life. On the other hand, those who tested as neurotics (in any way similar to introverts?) had fewer friends but had more detailed exchanges with them. The researchers also found that certain personality types tended to use certain kinds of words more often than others.

Should we be concerned? I think so, because what we offer in terms of an online presence is only one tiny slice of our personality. To suggest that what is offered on Facebook, Twitter or on a blog is a complete representation of who we are, is inaccurate. To think that a potential employer might be using this to determine someone’s employability is disturbing. It confirms for me the correctness in my decision to remove my presence from Facebook.

Your comments, identified, anonymous or psuedonym’ed, are welcome!


Chris said...

Couldn’t agree more VP. I, too, tried and deleted my Facebook account a few years ago, but did it using a method outlined by a Tech website, not as Facebook instructs. I think your concerns about privacy are well founded.

Your statement To suggest that what is offered on Facebook or on Twitter or even on the blog is a complete representation of who we are is inaccuracy is also true. It may offer some insight, but may not be a true indication or who we are.

I do believe some employers may use time employees spend on the web including Facebook and Twitter to fire (as opposed to hire) someone. I can understand this. Let’s face it – if you’re crapping all over your boss, watching porn or spending all your time at work on Facebook or Twitter, maybe you should be shown the door. I know many people who do this. I suspect our bosses do as well.

ViewPoint2010 said...

We’re on the same page Chris.

In my last job, the receptionist was seriously under-employed and used to spend all of her time on the Internet, writing to friends and family and visiting shopping websites. Even after several reminders that such behaviour was inappropriate, she didn’t get the message. Some people just don’t care.

Government Funded Blogger said...

I tried Facebook and found it to be childish and also narcissistic.

"To think that a potential employer might be using this to determine someone’s employability is disturbing."
I agree but in today's morality probably quite acceptable behaviour.

ViewPoint2010 said...

Interesting observation GFB. I might not have used those words, but they do fit. You know what finally caused me to delete my account? There were such varying standards of privacy – people felt that every picture they took could be posted to FB and I wasn’t interested in having my picture plastered all over the Internet, so when I started asking people NOT to post my picture and eventually not to take my picture, I realized I did not want a presence there and pulled the cyber-plug.

In terms of the morality of an employer looking at FB to determine employability, you’re right – we live in the age of the variable value where just about anything goes – by someone’s scale of moral behaviour. Not far removed from the Coliseum are we?