EAGER: Exploring Children's Use of Online Social Networks Using the KidGab Network Grant uri icon


  • This proposal will support research into why children use social networks and how they influence each other using KidGab, a social network managed by the research team and designed for pre-teen Girl Scouts. Although pre-teens regularly use social networks, relatively little is known about how they (versus adults) behave online or how this affects their well-being because most popular social networks close pre-teens'' accounts when detected, while purpose-built networks for pre-teens are heavily restricted in terms of both what users can do and what data is available for study. Building on their existing work with Girl Scout councils in Texas, the research team will develop new features and activities for KidGab and conduct outreach workshops with new councils. This will allow the team to study how children respond to different recruitment and motivating (''gamification'') strategies, in particular, looking at the relative value of adult- versus peer-created content and collaborative versus individual activities in encouraging continued use. Through looking at how children create and adopt each other''s drawings in visually-focused activities, the team will also develop novel methods for studying creativity, conformity, and influence in social networks. In addition to making progress on these specific questions, the team''s long-term research goal is to build a large enough network and dataset that both they and other researchers can conduct future studies and analyses. More broadly, the team will create useful online content and design guidance for building social networks for pre-teens that support positive outcomes such as identity development and personal connection while reducing bad outcomes such as oversharing and cyberbullying.Preliminary work by the team shows that the regular release of new content is critical to retaining participation; thus, the first main component of the proposal is to develop ways for children in the network to generate and share content such as personality quizzes, and images that network members can use virtual currency to buy and display on their profiles. This will allow the team to (1) compare the uptake of adult-created versus peer-created content and their effects on encouraging long-term participation, (2) examine the kinds of content children prefer to generate and consume while generating a library of child-created content, and (3) study larger questions about identity creation and exploration. The second main component is to develop sketching-based activities in which participants are given a creativity task and their work is made visible through the network so that other participants can adopt ideas from it in their own work. The team will manually code key features of sketches generated for a given task and study their propagation using link-analysis algorithms such as PageRank and the Hubs and Authorities Algorithm, interpreting the degree to which a participant is a hub or authority as the likelihood that they are influenced by or influence others. By looking at a variety of specific tasks and variations in instructions that prime behaviors, as well as characteristics of participants, the team will develop insights into key drivers of influence in pre-teens'' social networks. Further, the manually annotated sketches will provide training data for computer vision and machine learning algorithms for sketch analysis. The team will deploy these content creation mechanisms through events held with individual Scout councils geographically near those who have already participated in the network; such a strategy will best leverage the team''s existing relationships with nearby councils while increasing the chance of recruiting dense sub-networks to encourage long-term retention.

date/time interval

  • 2016 - 2019