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Oxford University Oxford Internet Institute

A multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet.

Social Data Science

As digital technologies, the internet and social media become increasingly integrated into society, our daily lives generate unprecedented quantities of digital data. These data provide opportunities to study complex social systems in frameworks similar to those of the natural sciences with emphasis on empirical observation of patterns in large-scale data, quantitative modelling and experiments. This ‘social data science’ can generate theory-informed predictive models and underpin the way we understand and solve social problems.

People: Helen MargettsLuciano Floridi, Jonathan BrightMark Graham, Scott Hale, Bernie Hogan, Taha YasseriRuth García Gavilanes, Graham McNeillMilena Tsvetkova


Social data science researchers at OII seek quantitative understandings of how individuals behave and interact in society. Social data science is a multi-disciplinary endeavour, involving understanding and modes of enquiry from across the social sciences, and concepts and models from the mathematical, physical and life sciences. It must include the development of a normative framework for the use of social data, which can be highly sensitive, and for the incorporation of social data science into policy-making, which involves new ethical thinking.

We collect and analyse large-scale, socially-generated data, and use experiments to make causal inferences and explain the patterns observed in the data.  Our research interests cover a wide spectrum including mass-collaboration and peer production, crowd-sourcing and citizen science, micro-labour markets, human-computer interaction, electoral behaviour, collective action and civic engagement, online communication patterns and information flow, and popularity dynamics and the attention economy.

Selected Publications

The below are a few publications in this area: for complete lists of outputs, please refer to individual faculty biographies.


The Internet presents huge opportunities for accessing and analysing data around a whole range of human activities: and getting their hands dirty with “real” data is something our Masters students are encouraged to do. Our MSc methods course options cover a whole arc from accessing research data from the social web, to wrangling data, and finally information visualisation and big data analytics.

Students taking these courses have looked at the diffusion of hashtags on Instagram, the use of Twitter for prediction, spread of discourses on social media, the language behind political satire, have analysed the distribution of Wikipedia article length to establish a better measure of language edition size to better understand growth and sustainability of the project, and have investigated popularity patterns of posts on Instagram to model meme virality.

Our research is organised in eight broad themes, where the Internet is having a significant effect on social, economic and political activity worldwide.