Just got back from Berlin, where the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society and the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research hosted this years annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers – AoIR 2016. This year saw me presenting a paper that must be considered a bit off the common track for yours truly. Specifically, I have collaborated with Hilde van den Bulck of Antwerpen University on a project detaling initial reactions to the death of David Bowie on Twitter. An interesting topic, if I may say so myself – especially for a casual Bowie fan such as myself.
I’m in Edinburgh to catch a show with a truly unique band – Magma. If you care about music, you need to give this a listen. Tomorrow, its off to Oxford and the 2016 Internet, Politics, and Policy (IPP) conference, where I will present a study on the use of Twitter and Instagram during the 2015 Norwegian elections.
I’m happy to report that recent months have seen the acceptance of a few research papers that I’ve been involved with. All of them are geared towards detailing various aspects of journalist use of the Internet and social media – a theme I’m glad to return to after a couple of years mainly focusing on online political communication. With the bulk of these publications, my goal has been to move beyond the focus on Twitter that has been rather common in a lot of recent work on online journalism. As such, the two solo-authored papers presented here deal with data gathered from Facebook, while the paper co-authored with Christensen offers a comparative perspective, employing mixed methods as well as data gathered from both mentioned services. Finally, the paper co-authored with Ihlebæk presents the results of a survey looking into the broader aspects of social media practices by Norwegian journalists. Below, you will find the abstracts for these papers, as well as links to online resources where you can find out more.
In it for the long run? Swedish newspapers and their audiences on Facebook 2010–2014
Accepted for publication in Journalism Practice
Pre-print version available at academia.edu or ResearchGate
While previous research has focused on the uses of a variety of online services—such as Web pages and, more recently, Twitter—by media organizations and their audiences, a rather limited amount of empirical inquiry has been directed towards the often more and broadly used Facebook platform. The current paper contributes to the research field by providing a longitudinal study of journalist and audience engagement on the Facebook pages of Sweden’s four major newspapers—Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Svenska Dagbladet. Employing state-of-the-art methods for data collection, the results indicate that while audiences appear to be increasing their engagement with news organizations on Facebook—albeit mostly through so-called “likes”—the media organizations themselves are decreasing their engagement with audiences.
“I Shared the News Today, Oh Boy” – News provision and interaction on Facebook
Accepted for publication in Journalism Studies
Pre-print version available at academia.edu or ResearchGate.
Swedish newspapers have hosted Web pages since the mid-1990s, and are often pointed to as some of the most popular online locations in the Swedish-speaking online sphere. These organizations have also taken to social media, maintaining presences on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The current study is focused on the latter of the two. It features a twofold aim, detailing the types of content provided by the four largest Swedish newspapers on their Facebook pages, and the types and levels of interaction this content is met with by their page visitors. For tabloid newspapers in particular, the types of news most provided (human interest-type stories) are not matched by the types of news most interacted with by the audience members. Possible reasons for and implications of this apparent imbalance are discussed.
From showroom to chat room – SVT on social media during the 2014 Swedish elections.
Accepted for publication in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
Co-Authored with Christian Christensen
Pre-print version available at academia.edu or ResearchGate.
Whilst social media like Twitter and Facebook carry with them the potential for the practice of journalism, novelties like these are also associated with adaptation difficulties – perhaps especially when it comes to the interactive capabilities that services like these afford. This study employs a multi-method approach to study the different uses of Twitter and Facebook by one media company – the Swedish public service broadcaster (PSB) Sveriges Television – during the 2014 election year. Utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data, we find that Twitter was used more extensively and in a comparably more interactive fashion than Facebook. Hence we suggest Twitter, used more for interaction, functions as a ‘chat room’; whilst Facebook, used more for broadcasting messages, can be viewed as functioning like a ‘showroom’. As Twitter is often associated with societal elites in the Swedish context, it raises a question about the suitability for a PSB to engage to such a degree on this particular platform.
BEYOND “J-TWEETERS” – Assessing the social media use of Norwegian journalists across multiple platforms
Accepted for publication in Journalism Practice
Co-authored with Karoline Andrea Ihlebæk
Pre-print version available at academia.edu or ResearchGate
Based on a survey (N=1 613) directed to members of The Norwegian Journalist Association (NJ), this paper presents an extensive overview of the ways in which comparably older and newer online platforms have been incorporated into the professional lives of Norwegian journalists. While plenty of research is available that explores the uses of Twitter by journalists, the results presented here suggest that Facebook is by far the most frequently used platform throughout the journalistic process – from collecting information, distributing content and engaging with readers. Statistical analyses provide further insights into which variables appear to influence certain modes of usage across the studied platforms. Based on the results, the argument is made that the advantages of using Facebook as a platform for journalistic practices are obvious due to its popularity among the general public, but that this utilization of one platform over others also could be problematic. As Facebook continues to gain leverage towards the newspapers they host, questions of journalistic practices need to come to the fore.
EDIT: May 14th: Following surgery due to a particularly nasty burst appendix, I will not be able to travel to ICA after all. A shame, but doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders. I am currently recuperating at home.
Apologies for the title of this post, I simply couldn’t resist. Nevertheless, when the smoke cleared after what some referred to as #glitchgate – see tweets by ICA, some graphs (of course) and an interesting prediction regarding next year’s conference – it was revealed that I would need to go Fukuoka for the 2016 ICA conference. Specifically, I’m involved in a series of presentations:
Larsson, Anders Olof (2016). Participant in roundtable: The Power of Digital Research. Other participants: Christian Sandvig, Aniko Hannak, Jean Burgess, Angela Wu, Eszter Hargittai and Homero Gil de Zúñiga.
Kalsnes, Bente, Larsson, Anders Olof and Enli, Gunn (2016). The social media logic of political interaction: Exploring citizens and politician relationships on Facebook and Twitter.
Larsson, Anders Olof (2016). “I Shared the News Today, Oh Boy”. News Provision and Engagement on Facebook.
Sundnes Løvlie, Anders, Ihlebæk, Karoline Andrea and Larsson, Anders Olof (2016). User experiences with editorial control in online comments sections after the 2011 terror attacks in Norway.
Looks like I will have a busy week in Fukuoka.
The picture above was taken by yours truly at the Desert Botanical Gardens, right outside of Phoenix, Arizona (or perhaps AoIRizona), site for the 2016 Association of Internet Researchers conference. This time around, I played a part in co-organizing two events together with Axel Bruns from Queensland University of Technology. First, I chaired and presented in a panel entitled Adoption and Adaptation: Diachronic Perspectives on the Growing Sophistication of Social Media Uses in Elections Campaigns. Besides Axel and myself, the other presenters were Tim Highfield, Jennifer Stromer-Galley and Luca Rossi. As the title (hopefully) implies, we provided longitidunal and/or diachronic insights regarding uses of social media during elections in our respective case countries. My presentation can be accessed here.
Moreover, I took part in a roundtable discussion featuring Axel Bruns as well as Katrin Weller from the GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne. Specifically, our session was entitled ‘Black Box’ Data and ‘Flying Furball’ Networks: Challenges and Opportunities in Doing and Communicating Social Media Analytics. This was a stimulating opportunity to engage in discussion with not only my fellow panelists, but also the audience, regarding a series of issues regarding research on social media. For my own part, I focused my opening statement on three main issues. First, I took the opportunity to share some of my experiences of free vs. paid alternatives for Twitter data gathering. This knowledge is important to share, I would argue, since the business interests of Twitter data providers do not always align with the interests of researchers. Second, I took the opportunity to provide some examples of difficulties in communicating with ethical review boards across countries. Based on work undertaken by myself and in collaboration with Hallvard Moe (pdf), the differences between Sweden and Norway in this regard are rather substantial. Finally, I took the opportunity to provide some examples of different approaches to data gathering from Facebook – and what can go wrong when approaching Facebook for research purposes.
AoIR (get it? AoIRizona?) is one of my favorite conferences to attend, and next year doing so will be even more enjoyable since it is hosted in Berlin – a rather short flight compared to the time it took to travel from Oslo to Phoenix…
Last week saw the biannual NordMedia conference go down in Copenhagen, gathering the bulk of media and communication researchers from the nordic countries. I had the pleasure of presenting two papers. The first (co-authored with Christian Christensen) deals with the uses of social media by the Swedish public service broadcaster, SVT, during the 2014 elections. The starting point for the paper is that while plenty of journalists are indeed present on Twitter, this particular service is used in a rather limited way by the larger population of online Swedes. Given the PSB mission of SVT, one might expect them to apply more of their resources to the more popular Facebook platform than we found that they did. This, we argue, signals somewhat of a communicative mismatch between the journalists and their audiences.
The second paper I was involved with was actually presented by my co-author, Eli Skogerbø. For this project, we looked at the values ascribed to various communication channels by Norwegian municipal politicians. While a lot of research has been performed looking at the communication practices of national level politicians, there appears to be a lack of studies focusing on the local level. With this as well as other, planned projects, I hope to be able to shed some more light on practices on the municipal level – arguably the level of government that most of us deal with on a day-to-day basis. On of the main results from the survey we used for this particular paper was that, with regards to online communication efforts, local politicians prefer Facebook over Twitter, which again speaks to the elite status of the latter platform. More to come…
This conference also saw me and my co-chair (Jakob Svensson) for the NordMedia political communication division step down and leaving responsibilities with Nils Gustafsson from Lund University and Christina Neumayer from the IT University of Copenhagen. I’m confident they will do a great job of organising sessions for NordMedia 2017, which if I am correctly informed will take place in Tampere, Finland.
Oh, and the picture above: I found this sign in a bicycle shop near Havnegade in Copenhagen (yes, that is me reflected in the window. Master photographer at work.). Translated, it says “We are here and we listen”. I thought it was a beautiful image – if anyone can enlighten me as to any further meaning attached to this picture, please get in touch.
In mid-july, I accepted the position as Associate Professor at Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology (Westerdals Oslo ACT). While I have enjoyed my postdoctoral stay at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, all temporary positions come to an end – and the position at Westerdals Oslo ACT looks like a nice opportunity for me to further my research and teaching interests. I’ll be assuming the position at the beginning of November of this year. More to come…
I was asked by the editors of Information Polity to review Analysing Social Media Data and Web Networks, an edited volume that deals with primarily methodological issues of online research. Below, you will find the preprint version – this is also available over at Academia.edu as well as on ResearchGate.
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Review of Analysing Social Media Data and Web Networks
– Cantijoch, Gibson and Ward (eds.)
Anders Olof Larsson
Department of Media and Communication
University of Oslo
The digital realm offers a multitude of opportunities for research. However, given the ever-changing nature of online environments, research focused on assessing such “moving targets” (McMillan, 2000) need to “freeze the flow” (Karlsson and Strömbäck, 2010) or make the data deluge available online suitable for scientific analysis in some other way. The volume at hand, Analysing Social Media Data and Web Networks is edited by Marta Cantijoch, Rachel Gibson and Stephen Ward and offers a series of useful and often practical insights for those of us who take special interest in analysis of online media. Specifically, the book features ten chapters that all provide insights into (primarily) methodological issues, presented by some of the most well known authors in what could perhaps be described as the field of online political communication (and beyond). In this review of the book, I have arranged my comments around five main issues that permeate throughout the text. In so doing, I’ll provide examples from individual chapters featured in the title, as well as from other sources. I’ve chosen to label the five issues dealt with as follows: The ever-changing nature of online services; Commercialization of data access; Socio-demographic perspectives; Ethical issues and Comparing with what is to come.
First, digital methods are fickle. They need to be fashioned so as to be able to adapt to and catch the aforementioned online flows. Indeed, researchers have dealt with what I like to call the ever-changing nature of online services for some twenty years, painstakingly learning from previous mistakes and developing more efficient ways of data gathering from online sources. Often, the tools used for such endeavors are constructed and maintained by individual scholars and their respective research groups, making it somewhat difficult for the community at large to judge the merits of any particular tool in comparison to some other variety. For example, while I am certain that the services introduced by Thelwall and Hussain et. al. in their chapters are of the utmost quality, the very fact that more and more purpose-built tools are launched could lead to difficulty in performing cumulative, comparative research as researchers select their tool of choice from an ever-increasing array of instruments. We should, of course, always strive to improve our tools, but the lament of the editors regarding the apparent lack of theoretical cohesion would appear to ring true also for these issues: “the field has deviated from [systematic theoretical inquiry] in a rather chaotic fashion, which makes cross-country and longitudinal comparison extremely difficult” (Cantijoch, Gibson, and Ward, 2014: 16-17). A similar statement could arguably made with regards to the methodological development of online research, broadly defined.
Second, such tools for collecting are made subject to almost constantly updated rules of the social media platforms they allow us to study. Such changes often appear to be related to what is understood in this review as ongoing processes of commercialization of data access. We can, for example, point to relatively recent delimitations of free access to a variety of public application programming interfaces (APIs) as hosted by Twitter (e.g. Burgess and Bruns, 2012), or the delimitations of functionalities imposed by Facebook on the freely available Netvizz data extraction service (Rieder, 2015). Indeed, issues like these are touched upon in the chapter penned by Jungerr and Jürgens, but it would have been nice if the authors or editors had touched upon what could be labeled as critical interpretations of these developments. With such a view in mind, the chapter by Graham and Wright correctly suggests that “people’s online data is often commercially valuable” (Cantijoch, et al., 2014: 204) – but what does such value entail for academic conduct? Arguably, the current developments are detrimental for scientists who, often with scarce funding, seek to perform research detailing services like these. As such, there is a clear risk that the increased commercialization of data access will contribute to a further widening of the already existing chasms between “data-rich” and “data-poor” scholars (e.g. Larsson, 2015).
My third point considers socio-demographic perspectives of the users whose digital trace data often end up in our work sheets, research notebooks and eventually (or hopefully, perhaps) published works. Specifically, regardless of how data are collected, we must assess who the producers of these data are – at least in some overarching, structural sense. Here, many of the included authors do a good job at acknowledging the biases that societal divisions like these unequivocally place on the data we gather from online sources. Increased knowledge about such stratifications should help end the sometimes heard happy-go-lucky type argument that data, because it is so plentiful (or even “big”, if you will), would be representative of the public opinion. Certain groups of citizens will always be overrepresented for certain forms of media use – a difficult obstacle to overcome for scholars, but an obstacle to be acknowledged clearly, nonetheless (e.g. Hargittai and Litt, 2012). Of course, such over- or underrepresented groups could be expected to vary across countries and contexts – something that further underlines the necessity of and challenges with comparative research across the strata of your choice.
Fourth, ethical issues are, or at least should be, at the very heart of scholarship. Such choices and prioritizations seemingly become especially poignant in the online context, where data emanating from a variety of user profiles and interactions can be collected and systematized with relative ease. The openness of online platforms like Twitter or YouTube is sometimes discussed as providing a carte blanche for various forms of data collection. Therefore, it is refreshing to see such arguably simplistic approaches to methodology questioned in Thelwall’s chapter, where it is suggested that “[d]espite this openness, there is of course a need for researchers to exercise discretion when personally identifying individuals in the course of their research” (Cantijoch, et al., 2014: 76). Related to such identification of individuals is the topic or theme dealt with in the tweets, Facebook posts or YouTube videos examined. While it might be technically true that “the majority of this data is open for all to examine” (Vargo, Guo, McCombs, and Shaw, 2014: 296), special consideration should be taken when the content deals with what could be understood as sensitive topics, such as sexual preferences or political orientation (Ess, 2013; Moe and Larsson, 2012). A recent overview by Zimmer and Proferes suggests that at least for research into Twitter, reflection on ethical issues are seldom seen (Zimmer and Proferes, 2014). This reviewer would be surprised if the situation was different for scholarship detailing other, similar services. One way to approach ethical issues has been to focus on content that has been actively put forward by users in such a way as to indicate their willingness to be seen in a specific thematic context. On Twitter, for example, this has been done by focusing on so-called hashtags – thematic keywords included by the users themselves to show thematic coherence. Such an approach is favored by a series of authors contributing to the volume at hand, like the previously mentioned chapter by Jungherr and Jürgens as well as the section penned by García-Albacete and Theocharis. Indeed, this way of approaching research could be seen as relatively unproblematic from an ethical point of view. However, the issue of what lies beyond the hashtag – in other words, what contents of relevance we are missing out on by delimiting our searches in this supposedly ethically sound way – remains unanswered.
My fifth point, comparing with what is to come, relates back to the first one. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that the methods discussed here could be seen as in constant flux, given the almost continuous changes taking place within the technical infrastructures we wish to study. For this final point, I’d like to stress the fact that not only do these infrastructures change – they will undoubtedly become out-of-date at some point, replaced by some new variety. Indeed, the services we study today will most likely not be around tomorrow, and it would have been fruitful to see the authors and editors reflect to a higher degree on such issues of cross-platform comparability in the volume. For example, how do we secure longitudinal insights, comparing possible future online platforms with those in fashion today if we construct our data collection tools and phrase our research questions based on the affordances of those services currently available?
Finally, while studies assessing the use of various social media platforms are all the rage, it is good to see that Analysing Social Media Data and Web Networks also features a series of chapters dealing with analyses of web sites, particularly those provided by Rosalund Southern and Benjamin N. Lee. Indeed, while it might be tempting to study comparably new services like social media platforms, the important role of web pages within political campaigning should be acknowledged with a suitable amount of attention from researchers. In conclusion, while the focus of the book is placed on issues primarily of concern to the broader field of political communication, such a thematic delimitation should not keep potential readers with mainly methodological interests at bay – the rich perspectives offered here are sure to be of use also to those coming to the study of online methods from some other disciplinary starting point.
Burgess, J., & Bruns, A. (2012). Twitter Archives and the Challenges of “Big Social Data” for Media and Communication Research. M/C Journal, 15(5).
Cantijoch, M., Gibson, R., & Ward, S. (2014). Analysing Social Media Data and Web Networks. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Ess, C. (2013). Digital Media Ethics (Second ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hargittai, E., & Litt, E. (2012). Becoming a Tweep. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 680-702.
Karlsson, M., & Strömbäck, J. (2010). FREEZING THE FLOW OF ONLINE NEWS — Exploring approaches to the study of the liquidity of online news. Journalism Studies, 11(1), 2 – 19.
Larsson, A. O. (2015). Studying Big Data – ethical and methodological considerations. In H. Fossheim & H. Ingierd (Eds.), Internet research ethics. Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk.
McMillan, S. J. (2000). The Microscope and the Moving Target: The Challenge of Applying Content Analysis to the World Wide Web. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77(1), 80-98.
Moe, H., & Larsson, A. O. (2012). Methodological and Ethical Challenges Associated with Large-scale Analyses of Online Political Communication. Nordicom Review, 33(1), 117-124.
Rieder, B. (2015). the end of Netvizz (?). Retrieved from http://thepoliticsofsystems.net/2015/01/the-end-of-netvizz/
Vargo, C. J., Guo, L., McCombs, M., & Shaw, D. L. (2014). Network Issue Agendas on Twitter During the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. Journal of Communication, 64(2), 296-316.
Zimmer, M., & Proferes, N. (2014). A Topology of Twitter Research: Disciplines, Methods, and Ethics. Aslib Proceedings.
I am very happy to see the Internet Research Ethics books in print – as well as freely available in a variety of digital formats. I am even more happy to have contributed to this excellent volume (if I may say so myself), which details some of the current challenges with regards to – you guessed it – ethics that researchers interested in the Internet frequently have to deal with. In my chapter, I approach these issues based on my own experience with “big data”-type research, discussing methodological challenges in tandem with those of the ethical variety. To be a bit more specific, I argue for what could be labeled as a hashtag-based approach to data collection on Twitter. Briefly put, by focusing only on tweets that contain specific thematic keywords, we can be quite certain that the senders involved intended for their tweets to be visible in a certain context – of interest to researchers. Of course, while such an approach might be considered as ethically sound, it also means that any twitter activity of relevance not including the hashtag under study would not be included. This is of course problematic, especially in an international perspective, where ethical recommendations are often more relaxed – essentially meaning that researchers in many countries have broader opportunities for procuring full samples of social media traffic.