A Twitter Experiment Provides IV and DV Practice for Your Students

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A political science grad student, Kevin Munger (2016a, b), decided to conduct an experiment on Twitter. His goal was to reduce the amount of hate speech posted to that media platform. To that end, he searched Twitter for a particular racial slur and sent every writer of such a tweet the same message: “@[subject] Hey man, just remember that there are real people who are hurt when you harass them with that kind of language.”

But that’s not all. Munger reasoned that the impact of the message on future use of racial slurs likely depends on the communicator of that message, such as the perceived race and status of the person who is sending the reminder of the impact of language. Munger created four Twitter accounts: “High Follower/White; Low Follower/White; High Follower/Black; and Low Follower/Black.” The high followers had over 500 followers whereas the low followers had two followers. The White accounts displayed a White avatar and had a more stereotypically White-sounding name, Greg. The Black accounts displayed a Black avatar and had a more stereotypically Black-sounding name, Rasheed. Following Munger’s be-nice tweet, Munger tracked daily use of the racial slur over the next two months.

The results. When Munger’s twitter account was High Follower/White, the number of racial slurs dropped .3 per day, the highest of any group. High status ingroup members do have power to influence. With about an equal, but smaller, decrease in daily use of racial slurs where the High Follower/Black and Low Follower/White avatars, although these differences disappeared within a few weeks (Munger, 2016b). Ingroup membership and high status both have an immediate, but not lasting impact, all on their own. What about Low Follower/Black? No Impact.

In Intro Psych, you can give your students a little practice with experimental design by using this article at the beginning of the course when you cover research methods or as a research methods refresher later in the course when you cover social psychology. Ask students to identify the independent variables and dependent variable.

The response to Munger’s missive wasn’t uniform; reponses differered by the anonymity of the Twitter user who received Munger’s message. Munger looked at the profiles of the Twitter users in his experiment. Of those users who were not anonymous, Munger reports that the High Follower/White Twitter account had no impact on the ensuing use of racial slurs. But the Low Follower/Black Twitter account “actually caused an increase (emphasis in original) in the use of racist slurs.” These were largely directed at Munger’s Twitter account that sent the be-nice message.

Shout out to Danae Hudson (Missouri State University) for finding this article and suggesting this activity!



Munger, K. (2016a, November 17). This researcher programmed bots to fight racism on Twitter. It worked. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/17/this-researcher-programmed-bots-to-fig...

Munger, K. (2016b). Tweetment effects on the tweeted: Experimentally reducing racist harassment. Political Behavior. doi:10.1007/s11109-016-9373-5

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.