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April 19, 2018 9:30 am - 10:00 am EDT
Title : Employing a Network Science Theory of Action to Diagnose User Trajectories in Online Platforms
Speaker : Devin Gaffney
Location : Northeastern University, Network Science Institute, 177 Huntington Ave., Boston, Massachusetts 02115
A persistent question in the social sciences regards the interplay between individual agency and structural constraints on that agency, an issue which has been problematized as the need for a “theory of action”. Within this general research agenda, computational social science has aggregated and described data about human behavior on unprecedented scales and has provided a picture of social behaviors in digitally mediated spaces. Research that directly and deeply interrogates the interplay between micro and macro forces remains an underdeveloped area in contemporary computational social science research, however. In my dissertation, I propose network scientific null hypotheses as a baseline methodological approach for considering this interplay in online interaction spaces. By asserting such a baseline, it is possible to ask important questions about one of the contemporary internet’s most pressing issues — to what degree are the emergence of and participation in toxic communities unusual occurrences for users? In this dissertation, a rigorous model of baseline expectations are established for how network scientific methods would presume movement through a particular type of platform, online forums. With such models in hand, the degree of deviancy between null expectations and observed outcomes can be measured, and matched observations can be used to assess the degree to which toxic communities and their participants can be said to be outliers or expected outcomes of a platform. Additionally, a causal experiment is proposed to assess the degree to which structural cues on online platforms steer traffic, which provides a direct measure on structural constraints on individual agency in online platforms. Jointly, these chapters help to constrain questions concerning the degree to which observed individual behavior is responsible for the broad array of toxic communities currently affecting online environments. The outcome of asking and responding to this research agenda, in turn, will inform future strategies for mitigating the effect of toxic communities on online platforms.