Today, three quarters of parents in the U.S. use some form of social media. Of those parents, the vast majority uses social media to receive support as and information on parenting. It follows from these statistics, estimated by the Pew Research Center in a survey on parents and social media, that parents are conveying and learning parenting strategies and behaviors via social media in ways that reflect and impact the way children are being raised in the U.S. Despite the potential importance of these social networks, we know little about the content or scientific accuracy of this information, and even less about how the content or scientific accuracy may vary by parent characteristics.
At the same time, what we do know about parenting in the U.S. comes strictly from survey or observational data, data that are useful but ultimately biased in ways social media communication may not be. Specifically, self-reported data on parenting suffer from social desirability bias, as parents aim to present ideal versions of their parenting to researchers, while observational data, though objective, can be conducted only in small samples that often lack generalizability. On social media, by contrast, large numbers of parents share information about their behavior in real life and their beliefs about real life behavior. Investigating data from social media, therefore, offers a new avenue for tracking parenting behavior and the parenting information most important ? not only to social science researchers ? but to U.S. parents today.
Our interdisciplinary team ? of two developmental psychologists, a communications and technology expert, and a computer scientist ? proposes to use data from one social media source in particular – Twitter – to investigate the types of information parents are giving and receiving on social media, the scientific accuracy of information parents are sharing, the distinct topical profiles of parents on Twitter, and how parents feel about the information they are sharing. We are capitalizing on Twitter data for two key reasons. First, approximately one quarter of online parents use Twitter, suggesting that enough parents use Twitter for it to yield rich parenting data. Second, Twitter content is publicly available, that is, the majority of users on Twitter are sharing information freely. Indeed, unlike other user-declared networks (e.g. Facebook, which nearly 75% of online parents use), Twitter is expressly devoted to disseminating information, in that users subscribe to broadcasts of other users. It thus presents itself as an optimal forum for getting information from experts, for example doctors and child psychologists, and having open conversations about that information.