2016: year of the tactical takedown?

Cross-posted from MIT’s Center for Civic Media blog.

The present presidential election is a spectacle, in the truest sense of the word, like few before. Just as FDR’s weekly radio addresses and JFK’s success in the first televised presidential debate watermark the adoption and cooption of a particular communication medium for political ends, so the 2016 campaign may go down in history as marking a seismic shift in the landscape of political uses of media. The candidate leading the charge, this time round, is unquestionably Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Yet it’s a little more difficult to identify precisely which medium or platform Trump has coopted. The most readily available answer seems to be ‘all of the above’ – although in different ways.

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Consider the Lawn Sign: elections as civic engagement

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Cross-posted from the Center for Civic Media blog.

Last week I had the chance to watch one of the world’s great electoral-political spectacles – the New Hampshire primary – up close. It wasn’t by any means my first dalliance with American politics: I’ve had at least a loose involvement in the fascinating and frequently Freudian process by which Americans elect their leaders for several cycles now. But this time I saw the process through a slightly different lens.

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Causation, Correlation, and Big Data in Social Science Research

Cowls, Josh and Schroeder, Ralph (2015) Causation, Correlation, and Big Data in Social Science Research. Policy & Internet 7 (4), 447-472.

The emergence of big data offers not only a potential boon for social scientific inquiry, but also raises distinct epistemological issues for this new area of research. Drawing on interviews conducted with researchers at the forefront of big data research, we offer insight into questions of causal versus correlational research, the use of inductive methods, and the utility of theory in the big data age. While our interviewees acknowledge challenges posed by the emergence of big data approaches, they reassert the importance of fundamental tenets of social science research such as establishing causality and drawing on existing theory. They also discussed more pragmatic issues, such as collaboration between researchers from different fields, and the utility of mixed methods. We conclude by putting the themes emerging from our interviews into the broader context of the role of data in social scientific inquiry, and draw lessons about the future role of big data in research.

What’s at the end of Facebook’s rainbow?

(c) Philippa Willitts on Flickr

(c) Philippa Willitts on Flickr

In a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago, I posed the following thought experiment: what if Mark Zuckerberg woke up feeling like Rupert Murdoch? For decades it’s been accepted – if seldom celebrated – that Murdoch’s red-tops command serious influence over the British electorate. Not for nothing, then, is it said that ‘it was the Sun wot won it‘ for John Major’s Conservatives in 1992; similar arguments could be made for each general election since, not least the most recent one. Continue reading

Big Data – What’s New(s)?

The following is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield this week, presenting work by myself and Ralph Schroeder.

The question of what drives news coverage far pre-dates the Internet and the rise of social media, and over the decades – or indeed the centuries – of mass media, myriad explanations have been offered in answer. Continue reading

The MPs whose Wikipedia pages have been edited from inside Parliament

Grant Shapps is in the headlines after being accused of self-serving edits made to his own entry on Wikipedia, as well as unflattering changes made to rivals’ pages. But he may not be the only politician giving himself a virtual facelift. Analysis of the Twitter account @parliamentedits, which tracks edits to Wikipedia made from inside the Houses of Parliament, shows other attempts to edit the online encyclopedia, many of them controversial.
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