Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, August 25, 2014

who wants to know?

So here’s a survey that wants to know whether I think I’m a narcissist or not. The problem — from my point of view — is that it begins by asking for my Twitter handle. So my first, and quite immediate, thought was, “So is Twitter — as opposed to Facebook — bankrolling this one?” Perhaps a rather suspicious question, but in light of recent events, by no means a cynical one. 

So I read the consent form, first tipping my hat just because there is one. And it’s rather confusing, though commendably upfront about one key point: "This research is not designed to help you personally.” (Well why not?) More positively: "The results may help the investigator learn more about how people use social media websites. We hope that, in the future, other people might benefit from this study through improved understanding of how friendships are formed and what kind of information people post online.” Well, okay, but where does the narcissism come in? That is only mentioned on the form itself: "We are trying to see if the things people say on Twitter can tell us if they are narcissists or not.” Aha! But how does that relate to the statements on the consent form? How all this works out I can imagine — I can guess — but….

I understand that the researchers are in a tough spot. They seem to be revealing as much as they can without tipping off their specific research questions, because the more people know about the experiment the more they are likely to adjust their responses in light of what they know. But given the close, and seemingly ever-closer, relationship between Big Higher Ed and Big Tech, and the reservations about that relationship that I have frequently expressed, there’s no way in the world I would ever fill out such a survey. 


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