Recently four members of our lab (Nathan LaPierre, Lama Khoshaim, Philip Mai and myself) participated in a colloquium called “Compromised Data:New Paradigms in Social Media Theory & Methods” in Toronto. The Colloquium attracted both qualitative and quantitative researchers from across Canada and abroad and was organized by Dr. Greg Elmer and Dr. Joanna Redden (Ryerson University) and Dr. Ganaele Langlois (U. of Ontario Institute of Technology).
As the title suggests the colloquium focused on the theories and methods that are used (or can be used) to analyze social media as well as tackled questions around the “politics of big data”. One of the more interesting discussions at the event was about challenges with getting access to quality social media data. This issue is of great concern to many social scientists because, ironically, while we live in a world steeped in data, many social science researchers now often find themselves data poor in a data rich world. This is because more and more data sets are now held in private hands. As a result, there is a growing concern among some academic researchers that only corporations and well-funded researchers would have access to this treasure trove of behavioral data. Such concern has been previously raised by researchers in relation to the access to Facebook data and well covered by Nature.com (see “Facebook ‘likes’ the scientific method“). As you may remember, this is when Facebook was pressured by the research community to institute a “supervised” protocol to allow independent researchers to access the social media data underlying their own in-house studies.
In addition to presentations and discussion related to data access, there were also a lot of interesting talks on how to collect and analyse social media data after it has been collected. For my part in the colloquium, I gave a presentation on our lab’s ongoing methodological work on “Automated Discovery and Visualization of Communication Networks from Social Media”. The slides of my presentation are below.
At the end, many of us who attended the colloquium had more questions than answers, but I think that is good. It shows how our multidisciplinary community of internet researchers are beginning to seriously think about data quality, access and replicability of social media studies. I take this as a sure sign that the field is maturing. And as Albert Einstein noted “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”