Wednesday, 26 October 2016

‘An introduction to tools for social media research’- an NSMNSS and SRA event

On 11th October NSMNSS and the SRA co-ran an event looking at social media research tools. Speakers came from a range of backgrounds, and discussed mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies including text, image, network, and geographical analysis. All slides can be found here and presenters will be contributing to a blog series about social research tools, due to be released later this year, so keep your eyes peeled!

Steven McDermott kicked things off by discussing the idea that ‘data is an ideology- a fiction that we can’t take at face value’. In his session Steven not only discussed which tools he used, but urged researchers to critically engage with the information we get from these tools, and what biases they may carry. He concluded that social media data should be used as an ‘indicator’ (rather than a fact) alongside other methods, such as ethnography, in order to get the ‘full picture’.

Next, Wasim Ahmed talked about NodeXL, a free Microsoft Excel plug-in he uses for twitter analytics, but can also be used with Facebook, Instagram and more! The main focus of this session was the graph function of NodeXL, which allows the mapping of networks. The tool also has a graph gallery, which allows users to access historic data stored there. NodeXL is a free tool and very user-friendly according to Wasim, so he recommends downloading and having a look at mapping your own data.

Moving on to developing tools for social media analysis, Luke Sloan from the COSMOS introduced their analysis tool. Luke started off by saying that the programme was created for researchers who ‘don’t understand technology’ meaning that complex computing language is not required to use it. Like NodeXL, COSMOS is also good at mapping, and can break down tweets by geography, gender and time, as well as identifying popular words and phrases in tweets; particularly useful for content and sentiment analysis.

Philip Brooker then discussed social media analytics using Chorus. The majority of the session was interactive, with Philip demonstrating how to use Chorus with twitter data. Chorus allows users to retrieve data from twitter by searching for hashtags and phrases. A good element of this tool is that it allows users to continually add data, allowing for longitudinal datasets to be created. It also has a timeline function which can be used to see the frequency of tweets alongside different metrics (again, very useful for sentiment analysis). There is also a cluster explorer function, which allows users to see how different tweets and topics interact with each other. A function which will allow for gathering of demographic information from twitter profiles is also currently being developed.

There were a couple of sessions on using social media for qualitative analysis; the first from Gillian Mooney was on using Facebook to conduct and recruit for research. Gillian emphasised that Facebook is good for stimulating discussion and debate, but she also identified a few drawbacks in the practical and ethical implications. Recruitment seemed to have been slow moving via Facebook, and Gillian suggested that twitter may be a better way of recruiting participants. She also stated that there are wider ethical implications with Facebook research because it often means that the researcher actively participates with the platform, which blurs the line between the researcher and participant. While this makes ethical research more difficult to conduct, she believes that it makes for more vibrant research. She ended with a call for ethical boards to be more understanding of social media research, and for a clear and consistent research ethics framework across all platforms.

Sarah Lewthwaite continued with qualitative analysis, by talking about developing inclusive ‘digital toolboxes’ so that research is accessible to all. Sarah stated that online research must be made accessible to all people in order to get a better sample and more vibrant data. While web accessibility is becoming more of a legal requirement for social media companies, there are still gaps in accessibility across platforms, and we therefore need greater technological innovation for social media and research tools. Sarah Lewthwaite used the ‘over the shoulder’ method (using a remote desktop and screen sharing) to observe how some people with disabilities access and use social media.

Our final group of sessions was on image analysis.

Francesco D’Orazio discussed image (and more specifically, brand) coding and analysis using Pulsar, which works across a range of social media platforms, including twitter and Instagram. To conduct the analysis, an algorithm must be created, alongside human coders, to define certain concepts (i.e. image topics), search images, and tag them with the concepts before clustering them. Francesco believes that doing this form of image analysis can do more for a brand than simple logo detection.

Finally, Yeran Sun discussed using images to map tourist hotspots. Yeran used Flickr (an often ignored platform for research), and geo-clustered images via their meta-data using R and QGIS (free and open to use) to show popular tourist destinations. Often, images will have longitude and latitude tags, which allow for precise mapping. If used effectively, geo-tagging such as this can be used to provide the ‘best’ route for tourists to see all the popular hotspots, or inversely, create ‘alternative’ routes for those who wish to stay away from popular tourist sites!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Westminster Student Blog Series

We will be posting a series of blogs written by University of Westminster Postgraduate students. They are all based on their research of social media, and come with a YouTube video as well. We will be posting one a week for the next month, so keep your eyes peeled!

The Effects of Digital Media on Journalism and Politics

Zahra Hasan (@Zahra_Hasan), born in Dubai and now based in London has just completed an MA in Social Media, Culture and Society from the University of Westminster and has a BA in International Journalism and Media from Richmond University in London. She's interested in issues surrounding data privacy, new media consumption and fan engagement on social media, in particular. 
“Social media has changed the starting points for certain types of action,” says prominent media scholar and sociologist Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory at the London School of Economics. His book “Media, Society, World” (Couldry, 2012), studies the ways in which society has been affected by the digital media revolution and the implications that this has. He applies social theory as well as practice theory into understanding how societies use media and how this has changed the very nature of behaviour and social organisation.

This video interviews both Professor Couldry and Professor Terry Kirby, Senior Lecturer and Director of the School of Journalism at Goldmiths University of London, and explores the impact that this shift to the digital has had on the fields of journalism, politics and political organisations in particular. The way in which the news is gathered, produced and consumed has changed from the era of print, now dwindling, to the current era of online journalism and news is now being increasingly consumed via mobile platforms. This can be both a good thing, in terms of a broader range of media outlets, as well as a dangerous thing; as the interviews remind us that it seems that audiences use social media and the Internet to turn to the sources they already had predisposed interests in.

So-called online protests, fuelled by social media, do indicate a shift in power from the status quo to the Gesellschaft – ordinary society coming together for a common goal (Tönnies, 1887). It remains to be seen, however, the outcomes and extent of this power shift. Furthermore, the impact that social media and web 2.0 play in social protests had initially been overstated, as Professor Couldry reminds us in this video; however, social media were a powerful tool in speeding up the organisation process especially in the digital era. This highlights the importance that social theory plays in today’s media environment and why “Media, Society, World” (2012) and similar books that combine social theory and the digital era are so crucial in understanding the nuances of digital media in society. It is important to study how journalism, the news and society’s interactions with politics have been impacted by social media and web 2.0. It is also interesting to attempt to predict the future of digital journalism and digital politics and to see how this affects political engagement and social and political mobilisation.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Westminster Student Blog Series

We will be posting a series of blogs written by University of Westminster Postgraduate students. They are all based on their research of social media, and come with a YouTube video as well. We will be posting one a week for the next month, so keep your eyes peeled!

Ethics & Democratising Facets of Digital Media

Oshin Mehta (@Osh88) is a marketing manager by profession and a Postgraduate Scholar at University of Westminster. She’s a tech enthusiast, who happily shares her exploration traversing the wilds of digital media.

The book “Media, Society, World” has attempted to highlight the implications of media rituals and its sway with respect to multiculturalism as well as the outburst of digital media. Digital media has allowed young people to frame their identities in a completely different way than the previous generation. However, media practice theory being the most conceptualized contribution of the book has raised important questions, such as: “What are people doing with media in context to how we act?” This issue is not solely confined to just social ‘identity’ but it also draws attention to the fact that everything is available to everyone online. This not only jeopardises the autonomy of young people when it comes to them exploring or making mistakes, in some cases it even promotes the gap between their online and offline identities. Conversely, it wouldn’t be right to exclude them from the digital space either as this is the space where we act.
As Danah Boyd recently stated in The World Economic Forum “the constant sense of connection is both empowering and utterly confusing.” This is why, there is an even bigger need now for ethical stances in digital media. Digital ethics in a broader sense deals with the impact of digital Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on our societies and the environment at large. The conception of ethics in media did not transpire as strongly until a few years ago when issues of privacy, identity and exposure were brought up especially with regards to the digital youth. However, in the recent years there has been a prescriptive turn in the head of ethics. Scholars like Sherry Turkle and Jaron Lanier who were celebratory supporters of the internet have now stirred up ethical concerns about the quality of lives we are leading with media, where we have become objects to each other online. The main-hamper affair is that we are functioning in a world that is so deeply saturated with media including the media that we generate ourselves. Jaron Lanier who is one of the inventors of the virtual reality has highlighted a similar concern in his book ”You Are Not a Gadget” which focuses on the inferences of “cybernetic totalism”. The ethical predicament is that these media issues are very new to us and they demand a radical shift in thinking of what each of us does as an actor in this media space.

The book “Media, Society, World” has addressed another significant issue of voice in media ethics which is, with media cultures no longer being confined in territorial terms “How can we expect everyone to listen to everyone else?” The subject of democratising voice in media needs to be further explored in media studies and by media institutions as it is now intolerable to live in a society with the suppression of voice. Therefore, with the advancement of Web 2.0, the notion of media needs to be further analysed to interpret how it can rightly fit into the world we live in.

Couldry, N. (2012). Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.
James, C. (2009). Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the Good Play Project (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning). Edition. The MIT Press.
Lanier, J. (2010). The Noosphere Is Just Another Name for Everyone’s Inner Troll. In: You Are Not a Gadget. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p52.