A review of social science research using Facebook

A quick-ish post just to point you towards a fascinating review published last month in Perspectives in Psychological Science: Wilson, Gosling and Graham (2012) A review of Facebook research in the social sciences. These authors review a set of 412 (!) studies that have been published, all since Facebook was launched in 2004. One of the striking figures in their review is this one, which highlights both the meteoric increase in Facebook users (currently over 800 million) and the parallel growth in research papers which have used Facebook as a means to gather data:

Figure 1 from Wilson, Gosling and Graham (2012). People like using Facebook, and researchers apparently *really* like people who like using Facebook.

The 412 research reports were divided into five broad-ish categories, in terms of their aims:

1. Who is using Facebook?
2. Why do people use Facebook?
3. How are people presenting themselves on Facebook?
4. How is Facebook affecting relationships among groups and individuals?
5. Why are people disclosing information on Facebook despite potential risks?

The authors suggest that, as well as just being a descriptive characterisation of the literature, these five central questions might serve as a common framework for future research in other online social networks, especially research which seeks to compare patterns of usage across two or more networks. Seems reasonable.

Also of interest (to me, anyway) is Appendix B which details the major data collection methods used by the studies, and also discusses some ethical considerations. It notes that some researchers have built custom applications for Facebook in order to collect data, but that these applications are not always successful in attracting a large user-base, i.e. some ‘go viral’ and some do not. This seems like an opportunity to do some interesting ‘meta’-research; a study of which research-driven applications are successful, and which aren’t!

Online social networks are an important part of many people’s social lives nowadays, and it seems unlikely that their influence has even come close to peaking yet; we can only expect that take-up and usage of these social tools will carry on increasing (and perhaps even accelerating) for some time. It’s good to see that social scientists have embraced these new ways that we all interact and are making serious efforts to describe and evaluate them.

TTFN.

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About Matt Wall

I do brains. BRAINZZZZ.

Posted on June 21, 2012, in Commentary, Experimental techniques, Internet and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this – it’s going to be invaluable as I struggle to fit data-gathering, analysis, and write up into the nine-month section allocated in my MSc.

  2. Hi Matt. Thanks for the heads up on this article. I downloaded it (for free) from the journal website today and found it very useful.

    I would also like to point out the massive increase has also led to an increase in research on excessive and/or addictive Facebook use. Some papers your readers might like to track down (or email me personally for at: mark.griffiths@ntu,ac.uk).

    Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environment and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552. [OPEN ACCESS]

    Andraessen, C.S., Tosheim, T., Brunberg, G.S., & Pallesen, S. (2011). Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale. Psychological Reports, 110 (2), 501-517.

    Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Facebook addiction: Concerns, criticisms and recommendations. Psychological Reports, 110, 2, 518-520.

    Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

    Dr Mark Griffiths (Professor, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University)

    • Thanks for the information Mark – that’s great. Odd that the review article didn’t really cover any online addiction studies actually, now that you mention it. In any case – thanks for pointing out the material – really helpful. Your blog looks great too; we seem to share the same taste in WordPress themes…

  3. I would suggest another important metric needs to be considered:

    How representative is the sampling from facebook. I think it not unreasonable to predict that a significant non-random portion of the social demographic is missing from the facebook sample, ie those who believe their data are worth more than facebook is paying.

    Without this consideration we probably risk interpreting human social dynamic from a same skewed to docility.

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