Scroll to top

Combining Facebook User Data and Web Surveys

Funding Source

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Project Period

2015 – 2016

Principal Investigator

Benjamin S. Crosier, PhD

Other Project Staff

Lisa A. Marsch, PhD; Fort Point Design

Project Summary

Facebook constitutes one of the most socially rich semi-structured datasets available. Although much research is being done with Facebook data, the required technical skills for data extraction and manipulation usually fall outside of the wheelhouse of a majority of social scientists. Multiple basic survey data collection tools are available to researchers that allow them to draw questionnaire data from Facebook users, but gaining access to profile information is more difficult. Much can be gained from combining both capabilities. By linking user data to survey responses, social scientists across disciplines will be able to pursue novel research questions on large scales.

By creating a free, flexible and easy to use tool (called scope) with data security and anonymity in mind, researchers will be able to safely collect data from a vast audience. This web application allows researchers to design surveys (with Survey Monkey) and download user information through Facebook’s Graph API. Upon user consent, this widely used application programming interface grants developers access to many user variables including detailed demographics, public profile information, egocentric social network structure, photos, tags, comments, likes and geographic history. Researchers can choose what information they wish too collect from this list and participants can elect to selectively consent to the collection of each type of requested information.

Scope has two components: a backend dashboard that serves as a data management tool for researchers and a frontend that Facebook users interact with during the data collection process. Researchers will be able to create surveys with Survey Monkey and then integrate that survey into the Facebook data extraction tool. These surveys then can be distributed through Facebook advertisements or email outside of the Facebook ecosystem. Scope is being piloted with a short survey study distributed through Facebook advertisements. This study examines the links between Facebook profile data, substance use, and other behavioral health issues.