Researchers use Facebook to study health behavior

Social network provides treasure trove of data


The lure of Facebook and other social media sites is irresistible for many people these days, and apparently that includes researchers at many prominent universities, according to a USA Today report.

A growing number of scientists are turning to Facebook to study everything from relationships to health behavior, even how social media can boost organ donation.

It's partially a matter of convenience.  Consider Facebook: Where else can researchers find 1.3 billion monthly users voluntarily posting personal information about their life?

Research using social media has generated controversy.  A 2012 study in which Facebook manipulated some users' news feeds to see how positive and negative posts impacted those users' emotions outraged some.  

Unlike that research, many scientists are using data collected through typical use of Facebook, i.e. the stuff users are posting or "liking" publicly.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence is among those utilizing Facebook for research purposes.  One project involved analyzing the interactions of 4.8 million teenagers who voluntarily used a Facebook tool designed to create better online interactions.

Researchers at the University of California-Berkley have focused their attention on Facebook users affection for emoticons, studying whether the use of the digital symbols is associated with greater satisfaction or even life expectancy.

Using social media sites for research is complicated.  Facebook is a private company, not a scientific organization.  But with so much potential information literally at their fingertips, scientists aren't likely to log off any time soon.