Researchers had to discard weeks worth of data due to a 56-second long TikTok video made by a teenager. Here’s a detailed story of what really happened.
What’s the TikTok video all about?
On July 23, a self-described teen author and high school graduate made a video on side hustles. Sarah Frank, the teenager talked about a website called Prolific.co. “Basically, it’s a bunch of surveys for different amounts of money and different amounts of time,” she said in the TikTok video. The video garnered over 4.1 million views merely a month after uploading.
What is Prolific?
Prolific is a tool used by scientists for conducting behavioral research. It helps researchers and corporations study how people act and think. However, it has no screening tool in place to ensure that the study is delivered to the representative sample population. All of a sudden, research began getting a wide mix of subjects for their studies on Prolific. Moreover, their studies and surveys were flooded with responses from teenage girls. Additionally, for research that relies on samples of the US population, it was a nightmare to receive responses from a different demographic.
“Before Mechanical Turk existed, all social science research had to happen in the laboratory. You’d need to bring in college sophomores and put them through questionnaires and surveys and whatnot,” said Nicholas Hall, the director of Stanford School of Business’s Behavioural Lab. While Amazon’s Mechanic Turk crowdsources for firms, prolific does the same for researchers. “That’s an enormous time- and labor-intensive endeavor. Online research makes it so much easier. You program a survey… you put it online, and within a day, you have 1,000 responses. That changed the face of social science,” added Hall.
Here’s the social media aftermath
Initially, researchers struggled to understand out what was happening to their studies. “We have noticed a huge leap in the number of participants on the platform in the US Pool, from 40k to 80k. This is great, however, now a lot of our studies have a gender skew where maybe 85% of participants are women. Plus the age has been averaging around 21,” added a member of Stanford’s behavioral lab.
However, Hannah Schechter, a Wayne State psychologist was the first to crack this curious case. “This may be far-fetched. but given the timing, virality of the video, and the user’s follower demographics,” she said. “Now it’s just another bullshit site to spend hours and make pennies on,” added Schechter. PCTO and co-founder of the firm, Phelim Bradley told that several new users were dropping off early. “Prior to Tiktok, about 50% of the responses on our platform came from women. The surge knocked this up as high as 75% for a few days, but since then, this number has been trending down, and we’re currently back to ~60% of responses being from women,” said Bradley. According to the CTO, about 4,600 studied were found to be disrupted by Frank’s video.
However, it is not a bad surge. Refreshing the pool of surveyors has long-term benefits as per experts. “It definitely didn’t occur to me that the video would blow up. I just posted it for my friends and followers, not for the reach it ended up getting. I think it blew up because the site is genuinely so cool, and people love efficient ways to make money,” said Frank, who is settling down for her freshman year at Brown University.
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