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

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 “Big Data – What’s New(s)?”

Why social data isn’t always a reliable indicator

From XKCD

“What social data can tell you: pretty much everything” proclaimed Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex, in a popular post on LinkedIn earlier this week. We can perhaps forgive Azhar the hyperbolic lead-in, but hisarticle as a whole indulges in untrammeled evangelism for social data which obscures much of the nuance and uncertainty regarding what exactly this new source of data can actually tell us about society. Continue reading “Why social data isn’t always a reliable indicator”

“Twitter says…” – Can big social data tell us about public opinion?

coffee house

“Like Noah’s ark, (there was) every kind of creature in every walk of life. They included a town wit, a grave citizen, a worthy lawyer, a worship justice, a reverend nonconformist, and a voluble sailor.”

The above description comes from a history of English coffee houses in the seventeenth century¹, but might just as well apply to the twenty first century’s sites of caffeinated conversation: online social networks. With the rapid uptake of the Internet and the more recent rise to prominence of social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of millions of ordinary people – the witty, the worthy, and the decidedly neither – are now connected not only to the web, a source of news, but also to social networks, a source of views. Continue reading ““Twitter says…” – Can big social data tell us about public opinion?”