Social Media and Big Data

The Social Media and Big Data project critically addresses the  ramifications of the ever-growing importance of data analytics in social science and humanities research. The project is organized around three axes:

  • Social Data and Public Accountability

Our social lives are now inseparable from the many digital traces we leave behind when we use apps, connect through social media networks, browse the web and so on. As well, this new social media environment dominated by corporate giants (Twitter, Facebook, Google, and so on) who have adopted a secrecy model when it comes to the kinds of data they collect about users, and the kinds of algorithmic processes they use to produce knowledge about users’ behaviours, feelings, emotions, and thoughts. This axis investigates the cultural, social, political and economic consequences of such massive privatization of the social.

  • Data Access

The social media environment has made public research into social data increasingly complex. Furthermore, the cost of obtaining datasets from corporate social media companies is oftentimes prohibitive for the public researcher. The axis focuses both on the development of new methods and methodologies for doing research within a compromised context, where data is difficult to obtain, to trace, to sort through and identify. This requires the development of software tools to collect data, and new models for doing research, such as participatory, grassroots data-driven projects.

  • Data and Social Change 

Oftentimes, social data projects are designed for purposes of surveillance of users, or manipulation of the moods of potential customers. Social data is being developed as a tool of predictability and therefore as a tool for social and economic control. It is envisioned mostly as a means of establishing certainty about the present and the future, and of punishing statistical outliers and so-called risky behaviours. This axis explores new ways of doing research, linking social data analysis with activism.

Research Partners and Collaborators

The Social Media and Big Data project is being funded through a five year $360,000 SSHRC Insight grant for its project. Greg Elmer and Ganaele Langlois (York University) serve as co-PIs of this project. The project team includes some of the world’s most accomplished scholars of new media and social media: Philip Howard (U. of Washington), Jean Burgess (Queensland U. of Technology), Axel Bruns (Queensland U. of Technology), Mary Francoli (Carleton University), Dan Pare (U. of Ottawa), Anatoily Gruzd (Dalhousie University) and Joanna Redden (Infoscape-Ryerson University).

Collaborators on the project include: Alison Powell (LSE), and Alessandra Renzi (Northwestern) and Andrea Slane (UOIT).