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.
The latest issue of The Journal of Media Innovations is now live, hot off the digital press. This is the largest issue published by the Journal so far – with seven full papers, two research briefs and two book reviews, covering a wide array of issues all related to the overarching topic of innovative practices related to the media (industry), there’s bound to be something for interested researcher and practitioners here. Moreover, the issue features an editorial introduction penned by yours truly. Essentially, then, this introduction features summaries of the featured articles and briefs. I also briefly discuss the common themes and topics raised. As such, it could be a suitable starting point for those of you who might be looking for an overview of what’s going on in the current issue. Of course, chances are you’ll jump straight to one of the articles instead. Anyway, on behalf of myself and the rest of the editorial team at The Journal of Media Innovations, we hope you enjoy the featured articles. And hey, it’s free. Check it out, and consider to submit your own work!
… On a personal note, a big thank you to Charles Ess for allowing me to play a large part in the culling together of this issue. Also, thanks to Anders Fagerjord for putting together the nice article template. Hope you like the looks of the Journal as well!
I was asked to review Nick Couldry’s Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice for European Journal of Communication (published in volume 30, issue 3). Below you will find the pre-print version (also available at academia.edu and ResearchGate).
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The broader field of media and communication studies incorporates a vast array of theoretical perspectives that have been and still are applied to further our understanding of what the media are, how they function and what results (or even ‘effects’ – if there ever was a value-laden word within the field, this is it) our everyday interactions with and through media could be expected to have. Undergraduates are – or at least I was – brought up learning the early history of the field as an almost steady march from “All-powerful media”, understood theoretically through metaphors of ‘hypodermic needles’ or magic bullets’, to latter periods where such power was vested in the recipients of media content – power to the people, if you will. Theories like Uses and Gratifications, for example, suggested that the preferences and goal orientations of individual media consumers would lead them to specific media content, rather than consuming any content that came into their path (e.g. Blumler and Katz, 1974).
In his book Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice, Nick Couldry embarks and expands on a somewhat similar approach. Specifically, Couldry makes the case for what he labels as a ‘practice approach’ to media and communication studies. He notes that while the aforementioned Uses and Gratifications perspective largely focused on individual, personal uses of specific media content in specific media channels, these diverse media channels or outlets have today become interlocked to the point where the only suitable starting point for an endeavor such as this would be ‘the media environment’, not specific media considered in isolation from each other. Similarly, while individual use is still of the utmost relevance for Couldry, he suggests an approach more akin to a macro level rather than the micro variety often focused on in combination with the Uses and Gratifications approach. Essentially, then, the practice approach, or media practice theory, suggests a focus on questions like “what are people doing that is related to the media?” (Couldry, 2012:35). Couldry does an excellent job at contextualizing what could perhaps be understood as a re-conceptualization of audience studies by suggesting that practice theory be understood as socially oriented media theory – one of four overarching perspectives of media and communication research (the other four being the political economy of media, medium theory and textual analysis). These four are outlined in a helpful graph included at the beginning of the book, which provides a suitable point of entry into Couldry’s thinking and suggestions about the larger areas of the field.
The suggested practice approach is arguably the key contribution of Couldry’s ambitious and meticulously researched text. Throughout the book, the author draws extensively on scholarship from a series of different academic traditions – most notably sociology and media and communication studies – to build his case. The concept of media practice wishes to uncover the ways in which people integrate media into their everyday lives in almost tacit, implicit ways – in order to meet our many diverse human needs. For Couldry, the media are (almost) everywhere, a line of thought that – with some obvious variation – has been touched upon recently also by others (e.g. Deuze, 2012). However, Couldry also makes his case by providing a series of theories more applicable with regards to empirical research, thereby making the book an even more interesting read. Given the authors interest in the humdrum of everyday life in relation to media use, I was nevertheless somewhat surprised to find very little reference to the work of scholars related to the Birmingham school – such as Stuart Hall, Richard Hoggart or Raymond Williams. Given their interest in the role of media institutions within complex issues like these, their perspectives could have strengthened Couldry’s case even further. Moreover, given my own personal research interests, I particularly enjoyed what I perceived as a tastefully critical stance from Couldry with regards to the consequences often thought to follow from whatever media format or channel is the ‘newest’ one at the present time. As one of many examples dealt with in the text, the author shows how despite much of the hype surrounding new opportunities for media consumption, the influence of television will most likely remain large for the foreseeable future, while the machine itself – the television – might converge beyond recognition.
While I agree that the practice approach championed in Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice seems like a suitable way forward for research into the uses of media, I would argue that the need for more technically informed research is also a clear and present one. This is in some way touched upon by Couldry in the aforementioned model he uses to contextualize his theorizing, but we might want to take the actions made available by new media – their affordances, if you will (e.g. Gibson, 1977; Leonardi, 2011) – into clearer account. While novel technologies often carry with them the potential to change user practices or even overarching structures of use or “produsage” (Bruns, 2008) in relation to the media, empirical research from a number of different contexts has proven that most uses are of the more traditional variety. With this in mind, while Couldry’s admittedly elegant focus on the overarching level seems suitable, I worry that such an approach might miss out on some elusive detail that emerges in relation to whatever media format, service or platform is ‘all the rage’ this month. Such a more artifact-oriented view, detailing what is technically possible or not, is perhaps better understood as the topic of another book.
Blumler J.G. & Katz, E. (1974). The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Bruns, Axel (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond. From Production to Produsage. Peter Lang.
Couldry, N. (2012). Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.
Deuze, M. (2012). Media Life. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.
Gibson, J. J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, acting, and knowing: Toward an ecological psychology (pp. 67–82). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Leonardi, P. M. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: Affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 147–167
I’m happy to report that the article “‘Of course we are on Facebook’: Use and non-use of social media among Swedish and Norwegian politicians” was apparently the most-read article from the European Journal of Communication during January 2015. The article, which I co-authored with Bente Kalsnes, deals with adoption and use rates of social media by Swedish and Norwegian politicians. The abstract is available below:
While plenty of research has provided important insights into the uses of the Internet by politicians during elections, a relatively scarce amount of work has looked into these uses outside of such parliamentary events. This article seeks to remedy this lack of research by presenting a study on the ‘routine’ uses of two of the currently most popular social media services – Facebook and Twitter. Focusing on politicians elected to the national parliaments of Norway and Sweden, the article employs novel methodologies for data collection and statistical analyses in order to provide an overarching, structural view of the day-to-day social media practices of Scandinavian politicians. Findings indicate that use levels are rather low for both services – the median amount of tweets sent and messages posted on Facebook is close to one per day. Further analyses reveal that the most active politicians could be labelled as ‘underdogs’, as they are more likely to be younger, in opposition and out of the political limelight.
By means of funding provided by my department, we’ve been able to make the paper available for everyone – also for those interested who might happen to reside outside of paywalls, the proprietors of which make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist.