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LinkedIn Studying Job Success on Social Media Users

The abundance of data being produced in the Information Age provides plenty of opportunities for social studies and ethical experimentation. In most scenarios, however, the individuals being studied are away of the experiment. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case when LinkedIn performed their recent social experiments on approximately 20 million of their own users.

In fairness to LinkedIn, the study wasn’t done for nefarious purposes. These studies were specifically done as a means of analyzing job success over the course of five years, and researchers were able to gain some valuable insight into the modern job market.

When Did It Occur?

Although the study wasn’t published until September 2022, it actually took place between 2015 and 2019. During this time, researchers with LinkedIn teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard Business School, who performed several large-scale experiments. These experiments were primarily aimed at the “People You May Know” feature of LinkedIn, which automatically suggests potential colleagues and friends.

What was the Point?

Ultimately, the research teams behind the LinkedIn studies were conducting a further examination of a relatively recent theory known as “the strength of weak ties.” According to the theory, individuals form specific ties with other people – friends, family members, and colleagues. Those acquaintances with the weakest ties are more likely to give you better referrals and job opportunities than those with the strong ties.

The theory goes against logic and common sense, which would suggest that those with the strongest ties result in better job opportunities. However, the recent tests performed on LinkedIn all but confirmed the strength of weak ties and, as a result, confirmed the original theory in question.

A/B Testing and LinkedIn

The actual tests utilized a methodology known as A/B testing. In this protocol, sometimes referred to as split testing, two separate iterations of the same element are tested against one another – usually to see which one performs better. It’s a methodology that’s used in many experiments, tests, and analyses; and it’s rather effective.

The Ethical Dilemma

Although LinkedIn’s research isn’t meant for nefarious purposes, it still raises some serious concerns about user privacy. In fact, many privacy advocates immediately came out to express their frustration with their research.

The team with LinkedIn is adamant that their tests were well within the parameters of their privacy policy, which gives LinkedIn the authority to use the personal data of its users in this manner. Moreover, LinkedIn insists that they used non-invasive techniques to gain access to the data. The study was also approved by the MIT Committee on the Use of Human Subjects.

This Isn’t the First Time

It’s also important to note that this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Back in 2014, Facebook joined up with research teams with the University of California and Cornell University to perform A/B testing regarding positive and negative content on users’ news feeds. They came under fire when they admitted to intentionally manipulation these news feeds over a period of one week in 2012.


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