What social media data should I use in my research? A response to Choi et al (2016).

Firstly, apologies for not blogging in quite a while; I’ve been finishing off my PhD which I’m super happy to announce I passed, with no corrections B-). It’s been a long process but I’m really proud of the finished product and I’m working on getting publications and a book out from it ASAP. Stay tuned for more news!

Secondly, and to get to the point of this post, a great article has just been published entitled “What social media data should I use in my research?: a comparative analysis of Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the New York Times comments”.

It’s been put out by a group of researchers from the State University of New Jersey. Namely Dongho Choi, Ziad Matni, and Chirag Shah. It was presented at the 79th ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Copenhagen a few months ago (October 2016). The full link to the article can be found here.

It’s a really great article, and it is truly truly great to see people moving towards a broader definition of social media. For far too long, Facebook and Twitter have held a relatively unchallenged monopoly over social media research. It’s easy to understand why; they are currently the most popular platforms by some distance in the western world. They also put out a staggering wealth of content to analyse and utilize. In many ways, they present perfect spaces through which to understand a range of issues, and they produce rich and detailed data.

However, thanks to the pioneering work of researchers such as Paul Hodkinson, Deborah Lupton, Sonja Utz, Rachel Kowert, Nicole Ellison, Xuan Zhao, Caleb T. Carr, and many others, digital research is again spreading out and looking at the social internet in its messy and overlapping entirety. That means embracing multiple platforms and exploring a range of spaces that contain various social elements. This should be encouraged, especially as recent statistical research from PEW (Lenhart, 2015) shows that young people are increasingly present on multiple platforms. Users are not using one platform alone; they exist in and across multiple spaces, and are increasingly using a broad array of platforms beyond Facebook and Twitter alone. As such, in order to understand the experiences of users online, a broader focus is needed, lest digital research gets left a decade behind the progressing reality of social media for many users.

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Curating identity online. Why do we insist that this is a unique feature of online social interaction?

I’ve been noticing a trend in the discussion of Social Media

In digital research there has been a move towards accepting that the internet is now a mundane and routine part of life, and as such an equal move away from distancing social media and the internet writ large from the rest of everyday life. Most researchers accept that the internet has quickly become routine. Rather than being a sparkly wonder for which we had to schedule time in our day to sit down and literally plug in, it has become accepted, ubiquitous, and demystified.

We have lifted the curtain and found that Oz is just some old white guy.

Research is now accepting that the internet is not a space to escape everyday life but a space in which we continue to project and live everyday life via new modes and new mediums.

However, researchers still seem to want to put some of the sparkle back into the internet; they still want to see it as something special and unique in some way. And in part this is true. The internet offers new possibilities, new ideas, new opportunities, new methods… BUT not everything that happens on the internet is unique and solely found online.

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