An Experimental Research Infrastructure to Study Social Media Platforms

William Schultz (Politics), Spring 2023

This project introduces a new framework for social media research, called MICE (Mastodon Instance Comparison Experiments), in which I use the open-source Mastodon software to simulate counterfactual platforms.  I inject research participants into separate Mastodon servers, and use financial incentives to induce a microcosm of online political discourse within each server.  In my latest demonstration study, I randomize participants into two different Mastodon servers, and implement a treatment using bots to popularize civil political speech on one server, and hostile political speech on another.  Studies in this framework can complement existing designs, to facilitate a forward-looking social media research agenda.