New Journal: Social Media+Society

The inaugural issue of Social Media+Society is out.  SM+S is a new open access, peer-reviewed journal from SAGE dedicated to the study of social media and its implications for home-coversociety. Look for the journal to  publish interdisciplinary work that draws from the social sciences, humanities and computational social sciences, reaches out to the arts and natural sciences,  and endorses mixed methods and methodologies.

Writes editor Zizi Papacharissi in January, “Our first issue, designed to be a manifesto for the journal, is scheduled to come out in Spring 2015. We also have two more special issues  coming out in 2015, one with Tarleton Gillespie, Hector Postigo and the Culture Digitally  group, and a second one with José van Dijk, Thomas Poell and their colleagues on Social  Media and the Transformation of Public Space. We are already working toward two more special issues to be published in 2016, one focused on Infancy Online and guest-edited by Tama Leaver and Bjorn Nansen, and another one guest-edited by Jean Burgess and Ben Light and focused on Gender, Sexuality, and Social Media.”

Of note, our own Guobin Yang and Rosemary Clark’s piece, Social Media and Time, is the first issue’s lead article.

Follow SM+S on Twitter @SocialMedia_Soc.

Comic Book on Big Data from Al Jazeera America

Online graphic novella, Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data, does an excellent job of sorting out the slippery slope issues of big data collection–our willingness to hand over our data to companies for our own benefit and what the trade-offs are. The 46-page work is by Josh Neufeld and Michael Keller of Al Jazeera AmericaI  learned about Terms of Service from a recent tweet.  Last week The New School’s Trebor Scholz (@TreborSterms2 posted “I can’t wait to read this comic book about big data with my seminar.”  That sparked my interest and I was not disappointed.  This comic book is a really painless way to understand what’s at stake with data tracking practices and how we got to this point.  Even when you know though, what to do, what to do. In his report on the Public Radio International interview in November that he had with the authors, producer Bradley Campbell adds a dose of realism when he confesses that even though there is a strong movement against Google Street View in Germany and other tech firms in other parts of  Europe (which the Neufeld and Keller point out),  “still, you’re pretty much followed wherever you go. I had that experience traveling through Scandinavia. On one hand, I wanted to have a private vacation and not let any companies know my location. But I also wanted to use Google Maps and Google Translate and post photos to Facebook for friends and family to essentially travel with me. So what did I choose? The latter. Of course.”

2014 UAE Social Media Outlook

It can be difficult rounding up media usage data, especially international data, so I’m always  happy to throw such reports up on shore: 2014 UAE SOCIAL MEDIA OUTLOOK: INCREASING CONNECTIVITY BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND CITIZEN.  The 26-page report is focused on the United Arab Emirates but includes data from the wider Arab region.

From the Introduction:

The UAE also tops the regional rankings across several social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, consistently having one of the highest user penetration users in the region over the past four years. As such, this study will examine social media usage and trends in the UAE this past year, within the larger scope of social media usage in the region and its impact on Arab government, society and everyday life. It is a collaborative effort between the Dubai Press Club and the Governance and Innovation Program at the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government and builds on the foundation of research conducted by the Program on the potential of social media to drive socio-economic growth and development in the Arab region. The study will comprise three parts: the first presenting the latest social media usage statistics in the region, with a focus on the UAE’s continued and exponential growth in the past few years; the second analyzing the results of a UAE-wide survey on the potential of social media to engage citizens in the design and delivery of public services; and the third documenting the success story that is the UAE Twitter ‘brainstorming session’ on public healthcare and education issues.

January CommQuote

The Cobweb: Can the Internet Be Archived? by Jill Lepore writing in the The New Yorker (January 26, Annals of Technology series) is a fascinating and worrying must-reading for anyone whose research involves the internet; that’s a big group. It’s also mandatory reading for anyone who reads and quotes the internet, an even bigger group.  

“The Web dwells in a never-ending present. It is—elementally—ethereal, ephemeral, unstable, and unreliable. Sometimes when you try to visit a Web page what you see is an error message: “Page Not Found.” This is known as “link rot,” and it’s a drag, but it’s better than the alternative. More often, you see an updated Web page; most likely the original has been overwritten. (To overwrite, in computing, means to destroy old data by storing new data in their place; overwriting is an artifact of an era when computer storage was very expensive.) Or maybe the page has been moved and something else is where it used to be. This is known as “content drift,” and it’s more pernicious than an error message, because it’s impossible to tell that what you’re seeing isn’t what you went to look for: the overwriting, erasure, or moving of the original is invisible. For the law and for the courts, link rot and content drift, which are collectively known as “reference rot,” have been disastrous. In providing evidence, legal scholars, lawyers, and judges often cite Web pages in their footnotes; they expect that evidence to remain where they found it as their proof, the way that evidence on paper—in court records and books and law journals—remains where they found it, in libraries and courthouses. But a 2013 survey of law- and policy-related publications found that, at the end of six years, nearly fifty per cent of the URLs cited in those publications no longer worked. According to a 2014 study conducted at Harvard Law School, “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions, do not link to the originally cited information.” The overwriting, drifting, and rotting of the Web is no less catastrophic for engineers, scientists, and doctors. Last month, a team of digital library researchers based at Los Alamos National Laboratory reported the results of an exacting study of three and a half million scholarly articles published in science, technology, and medical journals between 1997 and 2012: one in five links provided in the notes suffers from reference rot. It’s like trying to stand on quicksand.

The footnote, a landmark in the history of civilization, took centuries to invent and to spread. It has taken mere years nearly to destroy. A footnote used to say, “Here is how I know this and where I found it.” A footnote that’s a link says, “Here is what I used to know and where I once found it, but chances are it’s not there anymore.” It doesn’t matter whether footnotes are your stock-in-trade. Everybody’s in a pinch. Citing a Web page as the source for something you know—using a URL as evidence—is ubiquitous. Many people find themselves doing it three or four times before breakfast and five times more before lunch. What happens when your evidence vanishes by dinnertime?”


Electronic Surveillance/NSA Resource

New 13_oto Penn Libraries e-resources is the Electronic Surveillance and the National Security Agency: From Shamrock to Snowden (Electronic Surveillance), a collection of “leaked and declassified records documenting U.S. and allied electronic surveillance policies, relationships, and activities.This archive is part of a suite of resources available from the Digital National Security Archive (also known as the DNSA) which includes many other interesting US and international diplomacy, crises, and human rights collections. While the largest chunk of documents come from the post 9/11 era (761 documents), there are 73 documents from 1958-1976, 95 documents from 1977-2000, and 66 undated documents.

I would like to amend the statement in the finding aid, under Research Value of the Set, to include communication as one of the fields to which these materials could be of great relevance.

  • U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities and activities
  • legal issues concerning electronic surveillance
  • computer network exploitation and cybersecurity
  • intelligence liaison
  • foreign SIGINT Activities
  • U.S. foreign relations
  • security studies
  • international relations
  • U.S. policy making
  • the Ford, George W. Bush, and Obama presidencies
  • communication studies


Big Data for Media

Just out, a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (University of Oxford) report titled Big Data for Media. Authored by Martha L. Stone, the 33-page report, which looks at the big data phenomenon in the media sector, grew out of interview research with publishers, broadcasters, data scientists, and academics as well as two “Big Data for Media” London-based conferences in 2013 and 2014.

“For newspapers, television, magazines and Internet-only publishers, Big Data strategies can include audience analytics to enable a better understanding and targeting of customers; tools to understand public and private databases for journalistic storytelling; tools to manage and search the exploding amount of video, social media and other content; tools to target advertising and ad campaigns; tools to automate the production of text and video stories, tools to identify waste and enable efficiencies; and much more….While media industries are learning a lot from each other about Big Data, they are also increasingly drawing insights from other sectors beyond the media.” —Report’s introduction


Case studies of various media outlets make up the meat of the report.  Outlets include the Huffington Post, Buzz Feed, Financial Times and, dunnhumbly, Sacramento Bee, Archant, BBC, and CNN.  The pages are data rich in the form of pie and bar charts and other visuals.

Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS)

In Big and broad social data and the sociological imagination: A collaborative response published in Big Data & Society, the new open access journal from Sage (July-December 2014 vol. 1 no. 2) authors Williambd&s Housley, Rob Proctor, Adam Edwards, Peter Burnap, Mathew Williams, Luke Sloan, Omer Rana, Jeffrey Morgan, Alex Voss and Anita Greenhill discuss the challenges of big data to sociologists. The “adoption of a new generation of distributed, digital technologies and the gathering momentum of the open data movement,” according to the authors, grounds the work of the Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory (COSMOS) project.

What is the Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory (COSMOS)? Based in the UK, it is made up of a team of collaborators from Cardiff, Warwick and St. Andrews Universities (by and large the above authors) whose aim is to bring together “social, computer, political, health, statistical and mathematical scientists to study the methodological, theoretical, empirical and technical dimensions of social media data in social and policy contexts.” COSMOS

These collaborators keep a watchful eye on ethical issues  related to the new methodological tools being developed to harvest and evaluate digital data.

Publications include the COSMOS Online Ethics Resource Guide which is brief but rounds up an up-to-date bibliography on internet research ethics, including the 2012 Recommendations report by The Association Of Internet Researchers (AOIR).

COSMOS is also an open source software platform developed by the Project to access and analyze social media and other forms of digital data. Use of this software–they claim it requires no programming ability–is free to academic or non-profit researchers.



Meme Database

If you’re interested in internet meme culture—how images, websites, links, video, words, catchphrases, and hasthtags circulate the web to a viral extent— your research will likely include some visits to the Know Your Meme database. meme

Know Your Meme is a dotcom site that can be initially overwhelming because there are so many moving parts to it–forums, episodes, and blogs, not to mention ads. Started in December of 2008, the site’s purpose is to catalog and track trending memes on the web. Any meme that is registered (they can be uploaded by anyone but there is a research and evaluation process that follows) will be archived and findable through the website’s search engine. Even memes that are rejected by the editorial staff have a place in the “Deadpool” (how about that for a dissertation). To date there are 1,959 confirmed meme entries.

The look of the site varies, depending on the quality of the deposited memes; if the images or videos are pixilated or on the small size that’s how they remain in the database.

For some solid grounding on the subject (and no ads), check out Memes in Digital Culture by Limor Shifman (MIT Press, 2013).


Facebook Lit Review from New Media & Society

Need help in rounding up the scholarship on Facebook?  Belgian scholars Ralf Caers, Tim De Feyter, Marijke De Couck, Talia Stough, Claudia Vigna, and Cind Du Bois team up in the latest New Media & Society with a 6 year literature review on the subjects.

Facebook: A literature review
New Media & Society September 2013 vol. 15 no. 6 982-1002 


This article provides a critical review of scientific, peer reviewed, articles on Facebook between 2006 and 2012. The review shows that while there are yet numerous articles on various aspects of the social network site, there are still many gaps to be filled. Also, due to the limited scope of many articles (in sample sizes as well as in the number of countries included in the studies) and frequent changes to Facebook’s design and features, it is not only necessary to revisit many of these articles but also to integrate their research findings. The review ends with a critical discussion and directions for future research.