First, I visited Anders Larsson at Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology, where I outlined my thoughts on what I’ve started to call the second wave of citizen journalism, now taking place through social media. This essentially provides an overview of the key themes in Gatewatching Revisited – the update to my 2005 Gatewatching book which I’m currently writing:
The next paper in this Social Media and Society session is by my QUT colleague Brenda Moon and me. Our work-in-progress presentation explores how we can connect our long-term data on the structures of follower networks in the Australian Twittersphere with shorter-term comprehensive information on actual posting activity; we are interested how follower networks and @mention networks cross-influence each other. What emerges already from our preliminary work is that different communities of Australian Twitter users appear to exhibit some very different activity patterns, and that some appear more likely to break out of their follower/followee network clusters than others. One of the newer Twitter communities in Australia, teen users, seem to tweet particularly differently from the others.
Helen Webb starts off the next session of Social Media and Society, and begins by suggesting that social media have a transformative capacity for social research as well. To begin with, social media research challenges established conceptual and methodological approaches: they enable us to explore and revise existing theories of social interaction and self-presentation, for instance; or to review patterns and sequences of interaction in order to develop new views on conversational processes.
Next up at Social Media and Society is Jacob Groshek, whose interest is in new modes of journalism on social media. Journalism has traditionally been operating through gatekeeping, deciding what news is being published to their audiences and what news do not. This is still a key mechanism in digital networks, but increasingly redesigned to adjust to the multitude of senders and receivers that are now present in online spaces. All of us are now potential gatekeepers, making our own decisions about what to publish and what to ignore.
The final speaker in this Social Media and Society session is Moses Boudourides, who presents a study of the affective publics on Twitter surrounding the European refugee crisis and the Paris terrorist attacks. The project tracked some twenty keywords and hashtags relating to the refugee crisis, capturing a substantial volume of tweets that were further processed using Python.
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.
The next speaker at Social Media and Society is Christopher Mascaro, whose interest is in 'big data' on political communication online. Political discourse studies have traditionally been restrained by geographic and social access, and 'big data' from online activities can overcome some of these barriers; it also introduces some new limitations that must be considered, however.
It's the second day of Social Media and Society in London, and after a day of workshops we're now starting the conference proper with a keynote by Susan Halford. She begins by pointing out the significant impact of social media on a wide range of areas of public and everyday life. We're constantly presented with the digital traces of social media – with social media data at an unprecedented scale, telling us something about what people do with social media in their everyday lives. This is an unexpected gift, but is also causing significant concern and scepticism.
What is the quality of the data – what are they, what do they represent, what claims can be made from these data? Some social scientists are even suggesting that such data are dangerous and can affect the public reputation of the scientists and disciplines using them. Few people were experts in working with social media data when these data first arrived – we are building the boat as we row it, to use an old Norwegian saying, and we're learning about how to do so as we go along.