LinkedIn ran experiments on more than 20 million users over five years that, while intended to improve how the platform worked for members, could have affected some people’s livelihoods, according to a new study.
LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, conducted the experiments around the world from 2015 to 2019, Linkedin randomly varied the proportion of weak and strong contacts suggested by its “People You May Know” algorithm — the company’s automated system for recommending new connections to its users. Researchers at LinkedIn, M.I.T., Stanford and Harvard Business School later analyzed aggregate data from the tests in a study published this month in the journal Science.
LinkedIn’s algorithmic experiments may come as a surprise to millions of people because the company did not inform users that the tests were underway.
The study in Science tested an influential theory in sociology called “the strength of weak ties,” which maintains that people are more likely to gain employment and other opportunities through arms-length acquaintances than through close friends.
The researchers analysed how LinkedIn’s algorithmic changes had affected users’ job mobility. They found that relatively weak social ties on LinkedIn proved twice as effective in securing employment as stronger social ties.
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