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Social Media

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.

Social Media from the Anthropologist's Perspective

The final day of Web Science 2016 starts with a keynote by Daniel Miller, who contributes an anthropologist's perspective to the conference. He notes that especially when it comes to the popular discussion of Web technologies such as social media, there are many spurious claims about how they change social interactions – and anthropologists are called upon to make sense of these claims. Anthropology, he notes, is in fact the study of people as social networks: we are all of us embedded in our social relations with others, and it is these relations that anthropology examines and analyses.

This enables a process of 'holistic contextualisation', which aims to examine comprehensively why people do what they do, online and offline. This studiously avoids any simplistic concentrations on online or offline activities, as people are almost always operating across both spaces. One core principle of this is the idea of 'polymedia', which builds on the fact that cost and access barriers to most media have decreased to the point that people no longer choose their media based on such factors, but instead on other – social and moral – considerations. (The moral judgment comes in as people assess others' uses of specific media: is it appropriate to break up a relationship via social media, for instance?)

How Facebook Uses Computational Processes to Police Its Ads

The final Web Science 2016 keynote for today is by Daniel Olmedilla, whose work at Facebook is to police the ads being posted on the site. Ads are the only part of Facebook where inherently unsolicited content is pushed to users, so the quality of those ads is crucial – users will want relevant and engaging content, while advertisers need to see a return on investment. Facebook itself must ensure that its business remains scalable and sustainable.

Key problem categories are legally prohibited content (e.g. ads for illegal drugs); shocking and scary content; sexually suggestive material; violent and confronting content; offensive before-and-after images; ads with inappropriate language; and images containing a large amount of text.

Simulating Heterogeneous-Intent Cascades

The next speaker at Web Science 2016 is Onur Varol, who points out the wide variety of purposes for which people use social media, and notes that we change our online persona and usage styles according to different communicative contexts. Can we match language style and user intent, then?

Predicting Twitter-Based Information Cascades

The next session at Web Science 2016 starts with a paper by Jure Leskovec on information cascades. Such cascades emerge as users of social media platforms (re)share content through their networks, and the prediction of such processes is traditionally very difficult.


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