Leeds Critical Data Studies Group

Posts tagged with: critical data studies

Chasing the algorithmic magic: an introduction to the Critical Data Studies Group at the University of Leeds

The Facebook Trends feed is a list of topics and hashtags that have recently spiked in popularity on Facebook. This list is personalized based on a number of factors, including Pages you’ve liked, your location and what’s trending across Facebook.

In May 2016 the service was at the centre of a big controversy. Allegations were made that human curators were involved in selecting and moderating political news items adopting a liberal bias, favouring left-leaning topics at the expense of conservative ones. The Trends system has been discussed extensively since the accusations, and while some of the claims of systematic political bias may have been exaggerated, it is clear that a significant degree of obfuscation was going on at Facebook. Far from being a neutral and fully computational content aggregator, the Trending feed was, and still is, the result of multiple interactions between humans and machines. One of such interactions is what Tarleton Gillespie calls ‘clickworking‘. Clickworking is the ‘human computation’ that happens after the Facebook algorithm has identified spikes of activity or other patterns in a data stream. The human curators then go through this content using a proceduralised, repetitive set of steps in order to identify and categorise the trending items. While the curators are asked to make the sorts of decisions that only humans can make, i.e. based on meaning, they are forced to do so by following a set of standardised instructions in order to maximise efficiency, and to reduce variations caused by differences in judgement. The curators are fully assimilated in the computational process, acting like human interpreter programs that execute instructions in a scripting language.

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Leeds Critical Data Studies: An update on 2016 activities

Dr Viktoria Spaiser

Dr Viktoria Spaiser discussing results from a study of political discussions on Twitter during the 2011 Russian presidential and duma elections.

The Leeds Critical Data Studies Group has held a number of events in the first half of 2016, starting with a meeting at LIDA in February to bring researchers together to discuss issues relating to critical data studies at the university. Since then, we’ve held seminars to showcase research using digital methods, the ethics of big data research, and the evolution of political protest in social media settings. The LCDS Group has also conducted training in digital methods for social sciences and have supported members in related activities and events. A summary of the key events that have taken place under the auspices of the Leeds Critical Data Studies Group in 2016 can be found below.

Seminar Mixing methods: A celebration of innovative digital methods for exploring life online    

10 March, 4.00 – 5.30pm, Civil Engineering LT B (3.25)

This event served as the official launch of the newly-created Leeds Critical Data Studies Group (LCDS) and was hosted in partnership with the Communities and Culture Network and the Visual and Digital Culture Research Group at the School of Media and Communication. LCDS coordinator, Dr Heather Ford presented results of a project funded by the Communities and Culture Network+ to compile innovative methods that connect people to the data created by (and about) them. Drawn from case studies that were presented at the 2016 Digital Methods Summer School at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, as well as from experimental methods contributed to by authors of the Ethnography Matters community, the seminar presented a host of inspiring methodological tools that researchers of digital culture and politics are using to explore questions about the role of digital technologies in modern life. Instead of data-centric models and methodologies, the seminar focused on human-centric models that also engage with the opportunities afforded by digital technologies such as the ‘trace interviewing’.

Seminar The ethics of data 

19 May, 4.00 – 5.30pm, Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) Boardroom 2
Dr Kevin Macnish

Dr Macnish presented arguments about ethical issues relating to big data.  In particular, questions of ownership of data and associated rights.  Do we own “our” data and what does this mean?  What is the best way to approach the relationship between individuals and the data that concerns them.

Workshop Digital Methods for Social Science Workshop

24 May, 9.30am – 5pm, School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds
Chris Birchall and Dr Heather Ford

In collaboration with the White Rose Doctoral Training Center’s Communication and Media pathway, Chris Birchall and Dr Heather Ford from the School of Media and Communication introduced participants to the study of social questions using digital methods tools, techniques and research principles to study the web and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Grounded in a critical understanding of the strengths and limitations of digital methods, the workshop enabled participants to move through a series of research steps including data extraction and analysis in the context of a critical, reflexive framework. Although a single day was too short a time to engage deeply with these methods, the aim was to equip participants with the confidence to initiate further learning on their own after the event and to do so in critical, reflexive ways.

Seminar Social media mapping for studies of controversies and political protest

18 July, 3-4.30pm, School of Media and Communication Room 1.18

A seminar with talks by Ariadna Matamoros Fernandez who was visiting from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia and Viktoria Spaiser, University Academic Fellow in Political Science Informatics at the University of Leeds.

[1] Mapping sociocultural controversies across digital media platforms: One week of #gamergate on Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr
Ariadna Matamoros Fernandez

Social media play a prominent role in mediating issues of public concern, not only providing the stage on which public debates play out, but also shaping their topics and dynamics. Building on and extending existing approaches to both issue mapping and social media analysis, this paper explores ways of accounting for popular media practices and the special case of ‘born digital’ sociocultural controversies. We present a case study of the Gamergate controversy with a particular focus on a spike in activity associated with a 2015 Law and Order: SVU episode about gender-based violence and harassment in games culture that was widely interpreted as being based on events associated with Gamergate. The case highlights the importance and methodological challenges of more adequately accounting for the cultural dynamics of digital media within and across platforms. (The paper can be read at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/22041451.2016.1155338?journalCode=rcrp20)

Ariadna Matamoros Fernández is a PhD candidate at QUT and member of the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) with a background in Journalism. Her research seeks to understand the cultural dynamics of race and identity on social media by means of studying different controversies related to the Australian immigration and identity debates. Her research considers platforms as having an active role in the construction of racism online through their corporate logic and technical infrastructure. She studied a MA in New Media & Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), where she examined the media tactics of the Spanish extreme-right on Facebook.

[2] Communication Power Struggles on Social Media: A Case Study of the 2011-12 Russian Protests
Dr Viktoria Spaiser, University Academic Fellow in Political Science Informatics, University of Leeds

In 2011-2012 Russia experienced a wave of mass protests surrounding the Duma and presidential elections. The protests, however, faded shortly after the second election. We study the Russian political discourse on Twitter during this period and the main actors involved: the pro-government camp, the opposition and the general public. We analyse around 700.000 Russian Twitter messages and investigate the social networks of the most active Twitter users. Our analysis shows that the pro-government Twitter users employed a variety of communication strategies to shift the political discourse and marginalise oppositional voices on Twitter. We argue that the Twittersphere shows how authorities can disempower regime critics and manipulate public opinion. The focus of the talk will be on the methods used to do the Twitter data analyses.

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