Scholar to visit RTI International to discuss the emerging role of online data in social research

Research takes a timely look at how people perceive and share what they call "truth"

Dr. Michael Macy

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina — The billions of social-media posts, purchases and other online interactions that people generate each day hold tremendous promise for the study of human behavior, according to a leading researcher scheduled to speak in March at RTI International.

Michael Macy, Ph.D., the Goldwin Smith Professor of Arts and Science and director of the Social Dynamics Laboratory at Cornell University, will deliver a lecture called “Digital Footprints and the Future of Social Science.”

Macy’s lecture is part of the RTI Fellow Program’s Distinguished Lecture Series, which invites noted experts to visit RTI and lead discussions that intersect with our mission to improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice.

The event will be held at 3 p.m. March 2 in Dreyfus auditorium in the Haynes building at RTI International headquarters, 3040 E. Cornwallis Road, Research Triangle Park. A reception will follow the lecture from 4 to 5 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public. To attend in person or view the streaming video, please register by 5 p.m. February 28.

In his research, Macy examines social patterns and trends using digital technology, including computational models, online lab experiments, and device-mediated interactions. His team has explored the topics of circadian rhythms, the emergence and collapse of fads, the spread of self-destructive behaviors, and the polarization of opinion. In one recent study, he used 509 million Twitter messages to track daily and seasonal mood changes in 54 countries.

Macy’s lecture will compare the traditional research methods of surveys and lab experiments with online alternatives, some of which are just beginning to make inroads into social and behavioral science. He will discuss methodological and ethical issues raised by the use of digital records, including whether online data generalize to the offline world and how to protect privacy.

“Dr. Macy is an exceptional scientist, pioneering rigorous use of digital media and worldwide social networks to understand social phenomena,” said Georgiy Bobashev, Ph.D., an RTI Fellow in data science. “Among his interests are the timely topics of how people perceive and share what they call ‘truth,’ and the use of network surveys to uncover groups of similar respondents.”