Archive | November 2013

Social Media Research Conference – Sheffield

One of the best conferences I have been to for some time. I’m not going to do a full recap like I did with Social Media Week London because so much went on, so here are the most relevant points for me:

Keynote Speakers

Katrin Weller – The Pleasures and Perils of Studying Twitter

  • Has a handy looking book out – Twitter and Society
  • Most research into Twitter does not relate back to any theoretical framework – i.e. meanings and motivation behind tweets and interactions
  • There are no set methodologies for researching Twitter, which makes it such an exciting and creative field 
  • What’s next – what about twitter images and favourites? Also cross-platform studies

Jennifer Jones – Curating a Digital Commonwealth

  • Fascinating talk about her research into mega-events, using #citizenrelay as an example
  • Citizen journalism enables counter-narratives to get exposure they normally wouldn’t
  • ‘Digitally empowered citizens’ get stories and content faster than mainstream media 

Francesco D’Orazio – The Future of Social Media Research

  • Social media research should be approached with ‘Qualitative observation on a Quantitative scale’ 
  • Current methodologies are outdated and do not keep pace with social media
  • Current social media analysis lacks context – do not understand audiences, just measure numbers. Web analytics framework has been imposed on social media – which does not work
  • Reality mining – location data (most delegates had ethical concerns about this)


Katrin Weller – 

  • Modified tweets and Retweets can pull your original tweet out of context
  • Some who carry out social media research are not social media users – tensions

Plenary Panel 

Gareth Morrell – New Social Media, New Social Science?

Remaining challenges for social media research:

  • Methodological – what is quality, rigour?
  • Pedagogically – do people have the right skills?
  • Epistemologically – limited research with users
  • Ethically – what is informed consent? 

Louis Reynolds – Demos

Skills Lab 1 – Farida Vis – Overview of tools for social media research

  • – Internet Research Journal
  • Be aware of social influencing services such as Klout – their influence scales are unreliable 
  • Tools have agency and we should question that
  • – book out next October
  • When using tools, be careful they don’t get discontinued – this can throw your research into jeopardy
  • Common assumption is that we assume users see all data – it moves so fast and there is no much volume (especially on Twitter) that they don’t

Skills Lab 2 – Gareth Morrell and Eve Stirling – Qualitative tools for social media research

  • Qualitative – flexible, responsive, naturalistic, embedded in social context, experiences, attitudes, emotions, reasoning, depth, richness, diversity, meaning. 
  • Ellison & boyd (2013) Sociality through social networking sites – Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies p.151
  • Danah Boyd blog
  • Facebook Chat a good way of interviewing – no need for transcription – need to ensure consent
  • Don’t make up a ‘research’ Facebook profile – if you can see subjects’ Facebook profiles they should be able to see yours (reciprocity) can adjust your privacy settings anyway
  • Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube can be useful for research dissemination
  • Literacy Practices of Young Women (Davies, 2012) – example study
  • Barden, O (2013) – New Approaches for New Media
  • Combination of social media and face-to-face/observational research. 
  • Ideally there should be no distinction between online and offline research – they should be combined


Throughout the conference ethics was a clear concern for all involved. The ever changing nature of social media, low participation threshold, lack of clarity about what users are signing up for, copyright and ownership issues and transparency of methodology were all discussed. The ‘rules’ are still very unclear, however Eve Stirling directed us to the Association of Internet Researchers Ethics guidelines as a reference point. 

Is anonymous social media the answer to cyberbullying? No

Yesterday I came across this article in Mashable about the anonymous social network whisper, and whether it is the answer to cyberbullying.

I can answer that immediately – no. It is not the answer. I’m going to attempt to explain why using some new found knowledge gleaned from my reading of Aaron Balick’s The Psychodynamics of Social Networking (buy it, it’s really good).

In the book Aaron discusses psychodynamic theory and applies that to our relating on Facebook, Twitter, email and so on. He acknowledges that even though social media may have changed how we relate to each other in some way, our identities do not suffer as a consequence, despite public criticism and empirical research which claims they do.

We’re still ourselves online

Balick argues that despite the architechture of most social media allowing us to ‘reinvent’ ourselves online and take on completely new identities, the majority of us still present ourselves without taking on any ‘fake’ identites – social media is a platform for an extension of the self. Even if we’re not playing an active part in that presentation of the self, Google does it for us by presenting fragments of us online and cobbling them together when someone searches our name online.

So what happens when that identity is completely erased?

Anonymity, transference and projection

With regards to anonymity, Balick comments:

“The more one is obscured, the more easily one can fall into transference, making SNSs amenable to high levels of transference” (p.94)

Transference occurs when a person’s feelings about previous (or current) relationships are transferred on to others. Balick also claims that high levels of projection can also occur in these obscured environments.

So when one’s identity is completely obscured, that paves the way for excessive projection and transference, because there is no tracing back to the existing online identity and no consequence. People on Whisper can say and do what they want and be as aggressive as they want. If you post something on Whisper and get some aggressive comments, you will read them and still feel they are attacking you, as a person, even though they don’t know anything about you. It’s human nature to take it personally.

Could Whisper be different?

Whisper does have a supporting environment and no tolerance for trolls and aggressive comments, but that could always change. Social networks do change and the architecture of Whisper could leave it susceptible to trolls and cyber bullies because the anonymity factor is so appealing to them. We see it all the time on message boards and Twitter.

And even if someone finds solace in Whisper, there is nothing stopping them from being cyber bullied on other platforms. It’s just one of the sad consequences of today’s hyper-connected life which we are all still trying to navigate and make sense of.

So no, Whisper is not the answer to cyberbullying. It could very well be a place of comfort and support as described in the article, but it is just as likely to be another site for trolls to run riot. Social networks are ultimately what the users make of it, and there is only so much moderating that moderators can do.