The Verge has a strange tale about how a well-meaning teenager inadvertently messed up more than 4,000 social science studies. In July, Sarah Frank posted a video on TikTok giving advice on how to make extra cash through "side hustles." In one of her tips, she suggested her followers go to Prolific.co, where social scientists pay people to fill out surveys for their studies. Frank showed how she can make about $15 day doing so, and the advice went viral. More than 4 million people viewed the video, and soon Prolific was deluged with tens of thousands people signing up. The problem? Almost all of them were young and female, like Frank, and the little-known site had no screening methods in place to make sure studies delivered a good mix of demographics in respondents.
The story notes that scientists struggled at first to understand what was happening—see this tweet complaining that one study ended up with 91% female respondents—until the mystery was solved. The Verge reports that an estimated 4,600 studies were "disrupted" by the surge of newcomers, but a Prolific exec says the vast majority can be saved. The site is now working on safeguards. As for Frank, now a freshman at Brown, "it definitely didn't occur to me that the video would blow up," she says. "I just posted it for my friends and followers, not for the reach it ended up getting." As a post at Futurism observes, "it just goes to show the power that even a teenager with a modest following can have using tech platforms like TikTok." (Read more TikTok stories.)