Exploring social media as research data

Yesterday I was facilitating a new workshop at LSE, which we ran in conjunction with the Department of Media and Communications and LSE Library. Entitled, ‘Exploring Social Media as Research Data‘ we had a fully booked session, attracting mainly academic staff and PhD students from across the School. I was there to learn as much as the rest of the delegates and we have spent some time putting together a variety of sessions, which we designed to stimulate discussion.

The icebreaker was both playful and serious (reflecting much social media?) and a chance for people to get to know the rest of their table. We had them working in groups of around 6 or 7. Then we launched into an activity using extra large post-it notes where we asked them to come up with advantages and disadvantages of social media as a data sources. It was a chance to ‘crowd source’ ideas and we had a great number of positive and negative comments, from the free, easy to access nature of social media data, to issues of bias, privacy and ethics.

We had two case studies presented during the afternoon, the first from Pollyanna Ruiz from the Media and Comms department, who is a Research Fellow exploring protest groups and their use of social media. The second from Veronica Cheng in the Statistics department who has been using Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, to correlate sentiments about specific companies with their share prices. It was a chance to hear about how they harvest, analyse and store their data, and some of their findings.

John Southall, LSE Data Librarian and Ella McPherson from Media and Comms then explored the ethical and legal issues of social media data. We had quite an intense discussion about what was ‘informed consent’ and Ella drew our attention to the Ethics guide from the Association of Internet Researchers.

We have made some of the harvesting, analysis and visualisation tools available on a wiki. We also had a useful final session exploring in more detail 5 articles that use social media data sources and the methodologies they used. I really enjoyed what I hope will be the first in a new series of workshops and it was great to bring together so many researchers at LSE and hopefully to stimulate and support their work.


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