As Facebook hosts over 800 million active users today, researchers are taking full advantage of the vast amount of audiences they can reach. Just by simply shuffling through the many Facebook Profiles and Fan pages, scientists are discovering hard to find audiences such as Right-Wing extremists and underage drinkers. Access to this social networking forum opens up an entire new way of retrieving information. Researchers are able to set down their clip boards and stop going from door to door for interviews and instead just turning on their computers.
Is it legal for Researchers to access this information?
However one element that cannot be ignored is Facebook’s strict user privacy laws. To honor this, examiners such as medical researchers, think tanks, and political scientists are actually using Facebook’s very own advertising tools to reach their target audiences. This is the same method online marketers use to reach particular consumers when offering a product or service.
However reaching the intended audience is only half the battle, for researchers to understand their demographic in depth they must employ a set of non-contract based surveys that are free to users and don’t interfere with Facebook’s privacy laws. As in it must be a survey that user’s choose to take by their own free will. Of course, purposely placing that survey at the side screen of an intended Facebook user is at the discretion of the researcher.
Who else is using this new way of researching?
As a result of utilizing this new way of accessing information, scholars are finding a dramatic increase in academic papers focused on research found through Facebook. The biggest increase in demographic attention has been focused on young users between 16-28 years old; the most common age range for Facebook users.
What is the negative side of this discovery?
However a negative backlash did spur from this discovery with users realizing that they are always being watched. Since Facebook is a public forum, Facebook participants are becoming more aware of just how exposed their content really is. More importantly researchers must differentiate if a user is being honest or just playing into an “online character”.
It will be interesting to see if some of the information that researchers seek starts to become difficult to find as users discover new ways of hiding their profile.
Do you think it is fair for researchers to use Facebook as a way of studying key demographics?