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Social Data Science

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.

Publication Spotlight


Resistance to Resilience: Oxford Martin Initiative on Vaccine Misinformation

The pandemic has shown how public health depends on the availability of high‐quality medical information and clear and convincing communication on topics such as vaccines. Trusted and effective communication is a vital part of the overall public health effort to combat the virus. The spread of COVID‐19 depends in large part on the sum of individual decisions made by millions: will they wash their hands, wear face masks, self‐isolate if showing symptoms, and take a vaccine if it becomes available?

Social media is a major means of reaching these individuals. Yet we know that social media is also full of misleading rumours and false information, which can undermine public trust in official messages.

Policymakers and health practitioners urgently need to develop a capacity to identify the data deficits. They need to measure and understand the topics where there is a lack of quality information about COVID‐19, vaccines, and related health news.

This project will build on the Oxford Internet Institute’s existing expertise on misinformation to create tools and knowledge that will empower health authorities, scientists, and the public sector to communicate health information effectively and rebut disinformation when it occurs. The analysis will also help identify the data deficits, or areas where a lack of quality information fosters misinformation.

The project will work closely with health authorities to support them in communicating proactively where it matters, instead of focusing solely on reactive debunking. The project will help to build back better by contributing to a healthier, more resilient health information landscape after the pandemic.

World-Leading Researchers

Dr Scott A. Hale is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the OII, a Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, and a Senior Member of St Antony’s College. His work develops and applies techniques from computer science to research questions in the social sciences. His research seeks to see more equitable access to quality information and investigates the spread of information between speakers of different languages online, the roles of bilingual Internet users, collective action and mobilization, hate speech, and misinformation.

At the OII, Dr Hale has worked on projects using social data to inform transport policy, enhancing JISC’s UK web domain archive to demonstrate the value of big data in social science research, and supporting the creation of interactive visualisations for geospatial and network data by researchers. Currently, he is working on the Alternative News Networks project, which seeks to understand the health of the UK online information ecosystem, including tracking the spread of divisive and misleading content.

He has been published in major journals including PLoS One, New Media & Society, and Environment and Planning A. Dr Hale co-authored the book ‘Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action’ for Princeton University Press. He is Programme Co-Director of our MSc in Social Data Science.