Gene Valaitis: Facebook and your Psychological Profile


Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are currently under fire, in light of this Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne wrote an article that may make you concerned, read more below.

As revelations continue to unfold in the latest Facebook scandal,  we now know that millions of its users have unwittingly participated in research revealing details about their friends, their shopping habits, and their psychological profile, otherwise known as “psychographics,” or profiling of personalityAccording to one New York Times report(link is external), Facebook users opted in to complete a personality test using Qualtrics, software widely adopted by social science researchers to gather legitimate data in a convenient online manner. University researchers in the U.S. who use Qualtrics must undergo review by their institutions regarding the protection of study participants. Those review panels require that each Qualtrics survey begins with a statement of the rights of the participants, including confidentiality, anonymity (in most cases), the right to withdraw, risks and benefits, and a clear statement of what the participant can expect to have happen with the data. After completing the questionnaire, the researcher provides participants with a “debriefing” form that reveals the real purpose of the study along with contact information of the investigator.

It appears that these protections weren’t taken when Alaksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge (England) psychologist who worked for Cambridge Analytica, partnered with Facebook to provide a means of profiling users (who had to opt-in) with a personality test assessing the Five Factor Model.  This is a test that is widely used in legitimate research on everything from narcissism to psychopathology and every other personality constellation in between. There are short and long versions; this article(link is external) will lead you to some of these free versions.

It is true that those who gave their most intimate personality data to Kogan had to agree to participate, and then click on the link that took them to Qualtrics. However, what they didn’t realize was that the answers they provided would then provide Cambridge Analytica with profiles that could influence their Facebook feed. Other data about users also got drawn into the profile, which in turn gave even more personal information.

Read the full article or listen to our chat with Dr. Susan now.