Thursday, February 28, 2019

A New Trauma Population for the Social Media Age

Even if you aren't a Facebook use, you're probably aware that there are rules about what you can and cannot post. Images or videos that depict violence or illegal behavior would of course be taken down. But who decides that? You as a user can always report an image or video (or person or group) if you think it violates community standards. But obviously, Facebook doesn't want to traumatize its users if it can be avoided.

That's where the employees of companies like Cognizant come in. It's their job to watch some of the most disturbing content on the internet - and it's even worse than it sounds. In this fascinating article for The Verge, Casey Newton describes just how traumatic doing such a job can be. (Content warning - this post has lots of references to violence, suicide, and mental illness.)

The problem with the way these companies do business is that, not only do employees see violent and disturbing content; they also don't have the opportunity to talk about what they see with their support networks:
Over the past three months, I interviewed a dozen current and former employees of Cognizant in Phoenix. All had signed non-disclosure agreements with Cognizant in which they pledged not to discuss their work for Facebook — or even acknowledge that Facebook is Cognizant’s client. The shroud of secrecy is meant to protect employees from users who may be angry about a content moderation decision and seek to resolve it with a known Facebook contractor. The NDAs are also meant to prevent contractors from sharing Facebook users’ personal information with the outside world, at a time of intense scrutiny over data privacy issues.

But the secrecy also insulates Cognizant and Facebook from criticism about their working conditions, moderators told me. They are pressured not to discuss the emotional toll that their job takes on them, even with loved ones, leading to increased feelings of isolation and anxiety.

The moderators told me it’s a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: “I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack.”
It's a fascinating read on an industry I really wasn't aware existed, and a population that could be diagnosed with PTSD and other responses to trauma.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Replicating Research and "Peeking" at Data

Today on one of my new favorite blogs, EJ Wagenmakers dissects a recent interview with Elizabeth Loftus on when it is okay to peek at data being collected:
Claim 4: I should not feel guilty when I peek at data as it is being collected

This is the most interesting claim, and one with the largest practical repercussions. I agree with Loftus here. It is perfectly sound methodological practice to peek at data as it is being collected. Specifically, guilt-free peeking is possible if the research is exploratory (and this is made unambiguously clear in the published report). If the research is confirmatory, then peeking is still perfectly acceptable, just as long as the peeking does not influence the sampling plan. But even that is allowed as long as one employs either a frequentist sequential analysis or a Bayesian analysis (e.g., Rouder, 2014; we have a manuscript in preparation that provides five intuitions for this general rule). The only kind of peeking that should cause sleepless nights is when the experiment is designed as a confirmatory test, the peeking affects the sampling plan, the analysis is frequentist, and the sampling plan is disregarded in the analysis and misrepresented in the published report. This unfortunate combination invokes what is known as “sampling to a foregone conclusion”, and it invalidates the reported statistical inference.
Loftus also has many opinions on replicating research, which may in part be driven by the fact that recent replications have not been able to recreate some of the major findings in social psychology. Wagenmakers shares his thoughts on that as well:
I believe that we have a duty towards our students to confirm that the work presented in our textbooks is in fact reliable (see also Bakker et al., 2013). Sometimes, even when hundreds of studies have been conducted on a particular phenomenon, the effect turns out to be surprisingly elusive — but only after the methodological screws have been turned. That said, it can be more productive to replicate a later study instead of the original, particularly when that later study removes a confound, is better designed, and is generally accepted as prototypical.
The whole post is worth a read and also has a response from Loftus at the end.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019