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'Big Data'

Crowdsourced Images in the Boston Marathon Attack

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Anssi Männistö, who shifts our focus to the Boston Marathon bomb attack. Mobile social media played an important role in covering this attact: tweets and mobile media were no longer just sources of information, but also tools to very facts and photos and to identify potential suspects, through image recognition software and other facilities.

In Boston, journalists rapidly discovered the first reports and images of the attack from Twitter, and soon came to use them in their own coverage. Such material was then used in official investigations, unofficial hunts for the culprits, and in the media coverage. These each drew on a massive amount of mobile photos; on the real-time publishing of such content in social media; and on crowdsourcing of activities through social media.

Visualisations for Doing Good with Data

Ok, so I've boycotted the stupidly early 8.30 a.m. paper session at ECREA 2014. My day starts, consequently, with a paper by Helen Kennedy and Rosemary Hill, whose focus is on data visualisation. Data-driven decision-making remains out of reach for those who cannot work with the data directly, and data visualisation may help here.

There are now visualisation agencies such as Periscopic which specialise in data visualisation for social good. The idea here is to mobilise data graphically, to make data useful to a greater audience. Such visualisations include the work of The Guardian's Data Blog, for example, and may tackle serious as well as lighter themes.

But in order to make sense of such data-driven visualisation processes, we need to know more about the moment when a person encounters such visualisations. There is widespread discussion about how to optimise visualisations, but very little research into users themselves; much of this remains a debate by experts for experts.

Framing the Big Data Debate

The final speaker in this session at ECREA 2014 is Christian Pentzold, whose focus is on the discussions around the 2013 affair about the use of protesters' mobile phone data by police in Saxony. There is a discursive social construction of the term 'big data', and different frames of big data have emerged so far.

Transmedia discourse is combining a number of different conceptualisations, and this enables a number of different analytical perspectives and approaches; the speed of the dynamic reconfiguration of these different modes also affects how analysis may proceed.

Civilising the Discourse about Big Data

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Frederic Guerrero-Solé, whose focus is on big data on Twitter. Few people know at this point what 'big data' actually means; what discourse about big data are we constructing here? So is big data just a marketing concept? The uses of big data in social networks have largely shaped our understanding of the big data concept; is there therefore a common discourse about big data at least in a social network such as Twitter?

Frederic's project gathered some 400,000 tweets mentioning the term big data or the hashtag #bigdata, and explored the influence of users contained in that dataset; economic and technological newspapers and magazines emerged as the leading users from this, alongside leading hardware and software companies, and terms such as analytics or analysis were most common – the key theme now appears to be about how big data may help companies predict their markets. At the same time, a discussion of privacy issues and threats also emerged, but at a much lower level of volume.

The Emergence of Data Activism

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Stefania Milan, who begins by noting the social media response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, using Ushahidi Maps as a key tool for mapping the local situation. This is a positive example of how civil society can put big data to good use: what forms of massive data collection are possible here, and how can they be used for good?

There has been an industrial revolution of data, but citizens face a paradox, as moral codes are not yet aligned with social practices. Big data may mean big control, but also more opportunities; we need data activism to mobilise a critical stance towards massive data collection, emerging perhaps from hacker movements but also involving ordinary users, and enabled but also constrained by software capabilities.

The Construction of Audiences through Big Data Analytics

The first ECREA 2014 panel session is one that we have a paper in as well, but we start with Göran Bolin, whose interest is in the construction of audiences through big data-driven research. There is now a large discussion of what constitutes big data, of course, but Göran is bypassing this, focussing instead on the uses of such data to envisage media users.

Much such data are drawn from social media, but it seems that the social is getting further estranged through this; big data means an intensification of statistical and quantitative approaches, and to some extent constitutes a shift in the nature of scholarly enquiry, focussing on mapping networked accumulations. Such accumulations stem from the metrics produced by social media platforms, for example (such as like and friend counts); and interesting experiments are being conducted by taking away such metrics and thinking through how this changes the experience of such spaces.

Exploring the Global Demographics of Twitter (AoIR 2014)

Association of Internet Researchers conference 2014

Exploring the Global Demographics of Twitter

Axel Bruns, Darryl Woodford, and Troy Sadkowsky

In spite of the substantial international success of Twitter as a social media platform, reliable information about its userbase is surprisingly difficult to come by. Other than the 232 million “monthly active users” reported in the company’s disclosures to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its listing on the stock exchange, and some high-level breakdowns of account numbers across a number of key markets, most other assumptions about the Twitter userbase remain guesswork or are based on surveys with comparatively limited sample sizes. This paper takes a different approach to exploring the demographics of the platform: by undertaking a long-term crawl process across the entire Twitter user ID numberspace, we have gathered the publicly available details on every Twitter user account created between the platform’s emergence in 2006 and the conclusion of our crawl in 2013. By identifying the key patterns within this database of some 872 million accounts existing during our collection period, we are able to provide a much more comprehensive overview of Twitter’s footprint across the globe, its patterns of growth, and of typical user careers as listeners, followers, hubs and communicators than has been possible in any previous study.

‘Big Social Data’ in Context: Connecting Social Media Data and Other Sources (ACSPRI 2014)

Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated (ACSPRI) Social Science Methodology Conference 2014

‘Big Social Data’ in Context: Connecting Social Media Data and Other Sources

Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield

The current “computational turn” (Berry, 2012) in media and communication studies is driven largely by the increased programmatic accessibility of large and very large sources of structured data on the online activities and content of Internet users – and here, especially of data from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Such ‘big social data’ are being used to examine the social media response to issues and events ranging from national elections (Larsson & Moe, 2014) through natural disasters (Bruns et al., 2012) to popular entertainment (Highfield et al., 2013), and in doing so tell a detailed and real-time story of how large populations of Internet users engage with the topics that concern them.

The study of user activities in specific social media spaces alone, however, necessarily isolates such activities from their wider context. Self-evidently, users’ activities do not remain limited to Facebook or Twitter alone: they cross over between these and other social media platforms, and intersect with other online and offline activities. To develop a more comprehensive picture of how citizens engage with and respond to current issues, even only in an online environment, it would therefore be necessary to connect and correlate the data sourced from social media platforms with data from a range of other sources which describe other aspects of the overall online experience.

This paper describes the approach and presents early outcomes from one such initiative to put ‘big social data’ in a wider context. As part of an ARC Future Fellowship project, we draw both on large, longitudinal Twitter and Facebook datasets which describe how Australian social media users engage with and share the news articles published by a range of leading Australian news and commentary sites, and on complementary, representative data from the market research company Experian Hitwise which track, through anonymised data collection at the ISP level across millions of households, what terms Australian Internet users are searching for, and how their attention is distributed across available Websites.

The combination of these sources provides an important new dimension beyond mere social media metrics themselves: in aggregate, our sources show the extent to which users’ searching and browsing activities around current events (which generally remain invisible to their peers) correlate with active news sharing and dissemination activities (which are designed to alert peers to an issue), and how such correlations differ across different themes and events, and different social media platforms. This constitutes an important further methodological and conceptual advance not only for the study of social media, but for media and communication studies as such.

Berry, D., ed. (2012). Understanding Digital Humanities. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., Crawford, K., & Shaw, F. (2012). #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods. Brisbane: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2012. Retrieved from http://cci.edu.au/floodsreport.pdf.

Highfield, T., Harrington, S., & Bruns, A. (2013). Twitter as a Technology for Audiencing and Fandom: The #Eurovision Phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 16(3), 315-39. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2012.756053

Larson, A.O., & Moe, H. (2014). Twitter in Politics and Elections: Insights from Scandinavia. In Weller, K., Bruns, A., Burgess, J., Mahrt, M., & Puschmann, C., eds., Twitter and Society. (K. Weller, A. Bruns, J. Burgess, M. Mahrt, & C. Puschmann, Eds.). New York: Peter Lang. 319-30.

Mapping a National Twittersphere: A ‘Big Data’ Analysis of Australian Twitter User Networks (ECREA 2014)

European Communication Conference (ECREA) 2014

Mapping a National Twittersphere: A ‘Big Data’ Analysis of Australian Twitter User Networks

Axel Bruns, Darryl Woodford, Troy Sadkowsky, and Tim Highfield

Twitter research to date has focussed mainly on the study of isolated events, as described for example by specific hashtags or keywords relating variously to elections (Larsson & Moe, 2012), natural disasters (Mendoza et al., 2010), entertainment (Highfield et al., 2013) and sporting events (Bruns et al., 2014), and other moments of heightened activity in the network. This limited focus is determined in part by the limitations placed on large-scale access to Twitter data by Twitter, Inc. itself. By contrast, only a handful of studies – usually by researchers associated with commercially funded research organisations or with Twitter, Inc. itself – have utilised the Twitter ‘firehose’ or similar more comprehensive sources of data to explore broader patterns of traffic flows or follower connections on the platform (e.g. Leetaru et al., 2013).

This project builds on a long-term, large-scale analysis of the global Twitter userbase which has managed to identify within the over 725 million global registered Twitter accounts some 2.5 million Australian accounts (by matching profile details such as location, description, and timezone against a set of relevant criteria). Further, we analysed the follower/followee connections of these 2.5 million accounts and from this developed a first comprehensive map of account relationships within the Australian Twittersphere. In-depth network analysis of this map reveals the existence of a range of clusters of especially tightly interconnected users, linked to each other by other accounts acting as bridges between the clusters. In turn, qualitative exploration of the leading account’s profiles in each cluster provides an indication of the various areas of thematic focus which have determined the formation of these clusters, and their association with other clusters in the same network vicinity. Further correlation with other relevant profile data (including the creation date for each account, its level of tweeting activity, and the date of the account’s last tweet) offers additional opportunities to trace the emergence and growing complexity of the Australian Twittersphere over time, from the earliest adopters of the platform to its most recent users, and to filter the overall network for the most active and most persistent users.

This study represents the first ever comprehensive investigation of the development of a national Twittersphere as an entity in its own right. While the global nature of Twitter as a social media platform means that Australian accounts will also be connected with their counterparts in other countries, it is still to be expected that shared interests and identity lead to the majority of connections between accounts to occur within the same national user population, and our analysis of these connection patterns provides an important indicator of the themes around which these connections crystallise, as well as of the longitudinal development of these clusters of interests.

Bruns, A., Weller, K., & Harrington, S. (2014). Twitter and Sports: Football Fandom in Emerging and Established Markets. In K. Weller, A. Bruns, J. Burgess, M. Mahrt, & C. Puschmann (Eds.), Twitter and Society (pp. 263–280). New York: Peter Lang.

Highfield, T., Harrington, S., & Bruns, A. (2013). Twitter as a Technology for Audiencing and Fandom: The #Eurovision Phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 16(3), 315–39. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2012.756053

Larsson, A.O., & Moe, H. (2011). Studying Political Microblogging: Twitter Users in the 2010 Swedish Election Campaign. New Media & Society, 14(5). doi:10.1177/1461444811422894

Leetaru, K., Wang, S., Cao, G., Padmanabhan, A., & Shook, E. (2013). Mapping the Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter. First Monday, 18(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i5.4366

Mendoza, M., Poblete, B., & Castillo, C. (2010) Twitter under Crisis: Can We Trust What We RT? Paper presented at Social Media Analytics, KDD '10 Workshops, Washington, DC, 25 July 2010. Available from: http://research.yahoo.com/files/mendoza_poblete_castillo_2010_twitter_terremoto.pdf

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