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Tracking the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election on Twitter

The next speaker at Social Media and Society is Christopher Mascaro, whose interest is in 'big data' on political communication online. Political discourse studies have traditionally been restrained by geographic and social access, and 'big data' from online activities can overcome some of these barriers; it also introduces some new limitations that must be considered, however.

Reviewing the Emerging 'Big Social Data' Research

The next session at Social Media and Society is on 'big data', and begins with Andra Siibak (who is also the programme chair for AoIR 2017 in Tartu, Estonia!). She highlights the possible methodological shifts that arise from the use of 'big data' in social science research: this is in part seen as a shift towards more quantitative methods, but also as a more nuanced and methodological shift from designed to more 'organic' data, whatever we may mean by this. Approaches that are built on formulating and testing preconceived hypotheses may also be challenged by other, alternative approaches.

Social Media in Research: From 'Big Data' to 'Wide Data'

It's the second day of Social Media and Society in London, and after a day of workshops we're now starting the conference proper with a keynote by Susan Halford. She begins by pointing out the significant impact of social media on a wide range of areas of public and everyday life. We're constantly presented with the digital traces of social media – with social media data at an unprecedented scale, telling us something about what people do with social media in their everyday lives. This is an unexpected gift, but is also causing significant concern and scepticism.

What is the quality of the data – what are they, what do they represent, what claims can be made from these data? Some social scientists are even suggesting that such data are dangerous and can affect the public reputation of the scientists and disciplines using them. Few people were experts in working with social media data when these data first arrived – we are building the boat as we row it, to use an old Norwegian saying, and we're learning about how to do so as we go along.

Social Media and Collective Political Action

The closing (!) keynote of Web Science 2016 is presented by Helen Margetts from the Oxford Internet Institute. Her focus is on the use of social media for collective political action – that is, for activities undertaken by citizens with the aim of contributing to the public good. There is a strong feeling that such action is happening, but as yet not enough empirical evidence about how and why it is happening.

Even those who refuse to participate online are somehow caught up in the changes that the Internet has contributed to: our lives are intertwined with its technologies, platforms, and content. And these technosocial spaces also generate a substantial amount of transactional data about user participation that goes well beyond the sort of data – for instance about political attitudes and engagement – that were available in pre-Internet days.

Patterns in Social Networking on Facebook amongst Migrants

The final speaker in this Web Science 2016 session is Amaç Herdagdelen, whose interest is in the experience of immigrants using social networks. On Facebook, for instance, information about one's migrant status can be included in one's profile information; by identifying users with a difference between their stated home country and country of residence, the present study identified some 93 home countries with more than 10,000 immigrants on Facebook, for migrants in the U.S.

The Use of Open and Restricted VKontakte Groups by Russian Apartment Residents

The next speaker at Web Science 2016 is Ilya Musabirov, whose focus is on place-based communities online. The focus here is especially on VKontakte, the most popular social media platform in Russia, and on how residents in apartment buildings in St. Petersburg are using this platform. The main tool here are restricted-access groups, which require formal vetting by the group owner before access is granted (and during that process aspects like the applicant's apartment number may be checked).

What Twitter Can Tell Us about Attitudes towards Privacy in Qatar

Next in this Web Science 2016 session is Yelena Mejova, whose work examines how privacy is being discussed on social media in Qatar. Privacy has a number of definitions: the right to be left alone, right to intimacy, etc. But privacy is also defined differently in different regions of the world; the dominant western definitions of privacy may not align with definitions that are prevalent elsewhere, such as for example in the Gulf region.

Contradictions in U.K. and European eID Regulations

The next session at Web Science 2016 begins with Niko Tsakalakis, whose focus is on electronic identity. eIDs are a set of identifiers that set us apart from other people, and these can take a number of forms from software to hardware identifiers and biometric data. Such eIDs are now enshrined in a number of regulations at national levels, and also enable cross-border transactions across Europe.

Modelling Discrete Choice Problems

Post-lunch, the final day of Web Science 2016 continues with a keynote by Andrew Tomkins, whose focus is on the dynamics of choice in online environments. He begins by highlighting R. Duncan Luce's work, including his Axiom of Choice, but also points out the subsequent work that has further extended the methods for analysing discrete choice. Today, the most powerful models are mathematically complex and computationally intractable, as well as requiring sophisticated external representations of dependence.

From this work it has become clear that the Axiom of Choice holds only under relatively select conditions. Contextual data is of great importance here, and additional approaches to modelling general behaviour of discrete choice are required. The Randomised Utility Model, for instance, assigns a random utility value to each available choice, and in an ideal world users would then select the item with maximum utility; but because of existing preferences real-world users will deviate from such choices.

Factors Affecting the Success of Social Machines

The final speaker in this Web Science 2016 session is Clare Hooper, whose interest is in 'social machines' as defined by Tim Berners-Lee: systems were people do the creative work, and machines take care of the administration. Social machines will exist in the context of problems to be solved; they may be created by single stakeholders (as in the case of Galaxy Zoo), while others arise in a more emergent fashion (from online communities).


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