The use of social media data to create an accurate picture of us is fairly widespread now. Indeed, earlier this summer I wrote about a number of projects that are using Twitter data to do just that.
Of course, psychological profiling has many uses, and researchers believe that social media driven profiling could fundamentally change employment and commerce.
Several years ago, Cambridge academic Dr David Stillwell built a Facebook app called myPersonality that offered users a range of psychometric tests.
Within a few years several million people had completed the test, with a good number of those also giving researchers access to the data on their profiles. This vast database of psychological information and social media data represents the largest mine of its kind.
A treasure trove of psychological data
This data was largely open to the academic community, with around 100 institutions from around the world currently using it, and roughly 40 journal articles having used its data since 2011.
The team at Cambridge are putting together algorithms to make sense of the data, and there is a strong sense that our online musings provide a richer glimpse into our personalities than we’ve ever given before.
“If you ask a company to make their data available for research, usually it will go to some corporate responsibility office which deems it too risky – there’s nothing in it for them. Whereas if you tell them you can improve their business, but as part of that they make some data available to the research community, you find a lot more open doors,” the researchers say.
Thus far, most of the work undertaken at the centre has been in areas such as online marketing, with digital footprints turned into psycho-demographic profiles.
“We all have to suffer advertising, so perhaps it’s better to be recommended products that we might actually want? Using opt-in anonymous personality profiling based on digital records such as Facebook Likes or Last.fm scores could vastly improve targeted advertising and allow users to set the level of data-sharing they are comfortable with,” the researchers say. “This data could then, with the permission of users, be used to enrich scientific research databases.”
The trend is fascinating because it inevitably provides a richer seam of data. Traditionally, psychological questionnaires were painstakingly dull, but by mining social media and its like, it opens up a new era.
Smarter job seeking
The researchers suggest, for instance, that video games could be used in job centers to profile candidates quickly and efficiently.
“A job centre gets about seven minutes with each job seeker every two weeks, so providing personalised support in that time is challenging,” they explain. “We are working with a company to build a game that measures a person’s strengths in a ‘gamified’ way that’s engaging but still accurate.”
JobCity is an iPad app that is being used to test out this concept. It sees players exploring various job opportunities in a simulated city. The game is designed to measure the various psychological strengths and weaknesses of each candidate as they progress through the game, thus providing both the player and the job center staff with valuable feedback to help support that persons job search.
Suffice to say, with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s important that the data compiled on us is used responsibly and people remember the person behind the data.