Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context Analyzing Data

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1 Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context Analyzing Data Background Joji Mori (Student ID ) Assignment Three (Research Design ) Submitted 31 st May 2010 Assignment one was a literature review providing the context for this research. A dearth of knowledge in identifying the impacts of a vast amount of personal historical information which is made available to friends, family, acquaintances etc. on social networks was identified. Assignment two introduced the following research question to be used in assignment three. How do people react to professional bodies (e.g. prospective employers, credit loan providers) who data mine social networking pages to determine the quality of an individual in a professional context? 1 The methods described in assignment 3 include a virtual ethnography (Hine, 2000) in addition to interviews (focus groups were also discussed in the research design). For the purpose of this assignment, one news article based website discussion was selected and one 20 minute interview was conducted with an 18 year old male. Whilst the approach used in this assignment is not rigorous, the findings can be used as a pilot study to promote subsequent research on addressing issues surrounding the data mining of social networks. The news article titled The terrors of Twittering: growing up in an unexploded data minefield (Hearn, 2010) is an article describing potential issues of young people who share details of their personal lives on social networking websites. The readers comments on this article however, do not focus specifically on youth, but the broader adult population who use Facebook and the implications data mining to assess an individual s professional potential. The interview participant chosen is an 18 year old Facebook user who has finished high school and moving into tertiary education but currently working for a year whilst transitioning. The focus of the 1 Note: the Research Question was changed in assignment three to reflect assignment two feedback. The research question was previously listed as When users share personal information or have information shared about them on social networks, do they see this stored personal information as an accurate depiction of their true identity? Joji Mori. Assignment Three. Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context. 1

2 interview questions was to probe on the idea of his Facebook page being used to assess him by a potential employer. Data Analysis Approach The readers comments in the news article and a transcription of the interview were saved in two separate word documents. Three passes of the data were made using coding techniques identified in Neuman (2006) which refers to the techniques of Strauss & Corbin (1990). The following provides an example of how the coding process was completed on a small extract of both the comments on the news article and the interview data. Open Coding In open coding, categories were identified with respect to the phenomena of social networking and data mining by professional bodies. In the word document, codes were placed in square brackets [ ] and provided a relevant label. It is important to note that for the 77 comments made in the article, 90 codes were allocated because some users made quite long comments which contained multiple ideas. A set of 18 codes were identified were created for the interview with significant overlap of codes across both the interview and news item comments. [Code: Data mining useful for professional assessment] News item discussion I'm with Jen. If people are foolish enough to put photos or information on the web that show them in a poor light, then as a prospective employer I reserve the right to discriminate against them on the grounds of that publicly available information... [Code: Data mining useful for professional assessment] Interview participant...well, I sort of agree with that person. The person who is saying they would hire or look at someone, from the stuff on their Facebook. Because it sort of does show who you really are sort of... (Interview Participant) Axial Coding In axial coding, a second pass is made where relationships are identified in the data and any categories which are too low level grouped into higher level categories (and vice versa). An example of this is the following two category codes [Code: Other people have poor judgement] and [Code: Self control with social networking practise]. It was decided these two codes should be consolidated due to being highly related. Readers who articulated that other people share too much detail often also comment on having self control with the content they decide to share. Joji Mori. Assignment Three. Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context. 2

3 To assist with understanding the relationships between the codes, relationships, causal conditions, strategies, intervening conditions, and consequences were identified. In my data, comments relating to other people having bad judgement on social networks are causal conditions. The renegotiation of online social networking practises is a strategy to alleviate problems, and a consequence of poor usage of social networks is that you may end up a victim of potential employer s data mining. Selective Coding In selective coding, the third pass of the data analysis process is to identify a story line, picking out relevant examples (in the form of quotes) to help explain the key themes. Throughout the following section, these examples are self evident. Themes Five themes were identified in the data analysis of the interview and virtual ethnography which address the research question. A comment on the news article made by a potential teacher who uses Facebook demonstrates many of the themes identified in this research. I have top privacy settings and regularly comb through photos people have tagged me in and remove them. I am studying to be a teacher so this concerns me very much. To be on the safe side I will try remove all photos before I start teaching... b May 05, 2010, 7:26PM The themes discussed in this section include the knowledge that some people can see the potential uses of data mining social networks as a means of assessing ability in a professional context. However, there is also a strong reaction against this behaviour, with many suggesting that this is inappropriate and not a good means to determine one s ability to perform in a professional context. In both the interview and virtual ethnography data, there is also a common theme of people purporting self control with respect to what they chose to make public and feel their own behaviour will not get themself into trouble in future. The final theme uncovered in the data analysis shows there is also a resignation that this data mining is the new style of surveillance that we must accept and negotiate. Data mining social networks useful for professional assessment The news article had readers reflecting on the idea that social networks could be used by credit providing agencies, potential employers etc. to determine an individual s ability to pay loans or be a responsible employee. The following comment shows an example of how this data mining could be used. Joji Mori. Assignment Three. Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context. 3

4 Biffsteak, I was recruiting for a job last year, and I can assure you I checked the names of all of the candidates on all of the social networking sites. Someone who has photos of themselves partying every weekend is not someone who is going to be a reliable employee. How many "sickies" are they going to pull because they're hungover? I binned every single candidate who looked like a party animal, or who had made racist/sexist/homophobic/etc comments on those sites. Why would I want someone working with me who is an intolerant moron? Jen Brisbane May 05, 2010, 2:14PM This comment received a lot of attention from subsequent readers. They were divided on whether this was good practise or not. The following type of response demonstrates an example of supporting the data mining practise in this context (8 readers shared this perspective). I'm with Jen. If people are foolish enough to put photos or information on the web that show them in a poor light, then as a prospective employer I reserve the right to discriminate against them on the grounds of that publicly available information. That's the thrust of the article. Don't go public with stuff that might bite you later. rufus May 05, 2010, 5:20PM Similarly in the interview with the 18 year old Facebook user, the interviewee was provided Jen s comment as stimulus for discussion. The interviewee s response was to identify the benefits, suggesting it could be useful to data mine Facbook for employment purposes....well, I sort of agree with that person. The person who is saying they would hire or look at someone, from the stuff on their Facebook. Because it sort of does show who you really are sort of... (Interview Participant) Using online social networking information is not a good way to determine character in a professional context Jen s comment gained considerable attention on the news article discussion with 27 reader s comments reacting against the practise of data mining for employment purposes that Jen used. The following shows an example. Jen, but how can you possibly know that from a photo of them drinking on a Saturday night? They might've had a busy week at work and were simply letting off some steam. I find it amazing that someone's professional life could be influenced by how they act in their own personal time. It's quite ironic that you then label other people as intolerant morons. GKFC May 05, 2010, 4:00PM Joji Mori. Assignment Three. Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context. 4

5 Many readers suggested it was inappropriate to consider how a person could perform professionally by observing their interactions displayed on Facebook. Even though the interview subject said it could be useful for employers to judge people on social networking profiles, he mentioned a scenario when a friend swore on his picture on Facebook and he got in trouble from his parents. Whilst this is not a professional context, it follows that the interviewee is wary of others judging him by the associations he makes online and the interactions shared on his public profile. Other people have poor judgement / Self control Many also suggested that other people have poor judgement about what information to make public on Facebook (8 comments). Two comments in the news article demonstrate this perspective....there is a great solution. Don't make an ass of yourself in public (i.e. Facebook, etc... yes it is public domain). sfx May 05, 2010, 2:40PM...You would have to be a moron to put all your personal details an life history on any social networking site... Mike Castle Hill May 05, 2010, 3:00PM To complement this, numerous people espoused self control...for myself i don t put stuff like that on... (Interview participant). This is also evident in the way that some also provided advice for others about appropriate Facebook usage, gave lessons on how to use the privacy settings within Facebook (7 comments) and articulated rules for their own behaviour....i only have my real name and secondary (hotmail) on FB. No address, mobile, phone numbers, or anything else. I also only have "normal" photos of myself. I don't post party photos... Charles S Sydney May 05, 2010, 4:15PM Renegotiating online practises due to data mining on social networks The final theme identified in data analysis relates to renegotiating practises on social networks due to data mining (5 comments). The following provides examples of this....treat your online world just like your real world. If you wouldn t say something to a person face to face don t say it online... Craig Ashley Russell nextbigthing.com.au May 05, 2010, 6:08PM...Info on the Net is forever, it is likely to appear at the most unlikely places over time. No matter if it is text, photos or video, it NEVER dies : ) Wabster Hurstville NSW May 05, 2010, 2:51PM Joji Mori. Assignment Three. Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context. 5

6 The comments above suggest a perception that this is now the way that social networks operate and there must be a change in our online practises due to the fact that data mining already occurs. Resignation is evident in these responses, and that we are to be held accountable for our actions in this new online social networking environment. The 18 year old Facebook user articulates this as...i know my parents look at it so I keep everything real, so to speak... (Interview Participant). Discussion and Conclusion The research question focussed on people s reactions to the use of social networking information for data mining purposes in a professional context. It was clear that people understood social networking profiles could be used for determining the suitability of an individual in a professional context. However there is a strong perception that this is done at the risk of excluding perfectly appropriate candidates who are just letting their hair down and their social networking content is therefore not an appropriate method to understand one s professional capabilities. The surprising finding was that many people consider others to have poor judgement online with what is made public and often reflected on their own self control as to what they decide to make public online. This high level of perceived self control is an area worth exploring in further research since people will likely have differing levels of what they consider appropriate and online social networks may need to be sensitive to these differences It is important to understand the findings of this research must be taken as a pilot study. The themes have been uncovered with only one newspaper article (with 77 comments) and one interview transcript. These findings have provided impetus for future research into better understanding the themes identified which could help alleviate concerns with social networks and data mining. Reference List Hearn, L. (2010). The terrors of Twittering: growing up in an unexploded data minefield. Retrieved 7th May, 2010, from news/the terrorsof twittering growing up in an unexploded data minefield u8rk.html Hine, C. (2000). Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage. Neuman, W. L. (2006). Social Research Methods (6 ed.): Pearson Education. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications. Joji Mori. Assignment Three. Data Mining Online Social Networks in a Professional Context. 6

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