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ARC LIEF: TrISMA - Tracking Infrastructure for Social Media Analysis

Discussing Illicit Drug Use on Social Media

The third speaker in this Social Media and Society session is Alexia Maddox, whose interest is in the study of online discussions of illicit drug use. Illicit drugs are a stigmatised topic, which has pushed discussion into more permissive spaces such as social media. In Australia, there has been a renewed push to legalise medicinal marijuana, which has increased the volume of discussions about the drug, and this provides the current context for this study.

Easy Data, Hard Data, Compromised Data

My QUT DMRC colleague Jean Burgess and I are next at AoIR 2015, presenting the core points from our chapter "Easy Data, Hard Data" in the Compromised Data collection. (The slides are below.) The chapter thinks through the pragmatics and politics of being social media researchers in a complex and precarious environment, and thus builds on David Berry's work on the computational turn in humanities and social science research.

Some New Publications

It’s been some time since I last posted an update on my latest publications – though you may have seen that on the front page of this site, I’ve updated the banner of the most recent books I’ve been featured in, at last. There is quite a lot more work in the pipeline for the immediate future, including a major new collection which I’ve edited with colleagues in Norway and Sweden – more on that soon.

For now, though, you wouldn’t go wrong if you started by checking out the new journal Social Media + Society, which I’m delighted to be involved in as a member of the Editorial Board. We launched issue 1.1 with a collection of brief manifesto pieces that outline why the study of social media and their impacts on society is so important, featuring many leading researchers in this emerging field. And what’s more, the whole journal is open access! For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution:

Axel Bruns. “Making Sense of Society through Social Media.Social Media + Society 1.1 (2015). DOI: 10.1177/2056305115578679.

Along similar lines, my QUT Digital Media Research Centre colleagues and I have also continued our critical engagement with social media and ‘big data’ research methods and approaches, which has resulted in two new book chapters recently.

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.

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