Accessing Research Data from the Social Web
Digital Social Research Option Paper Group B; Hilary Term
- Reading list: Accessing Research Data from the Social Web reading list
“A major change is happening in the social sciences, as we move from an era where data was very hard to come by to an era where the digitisation of social life is making it increasingly easy to collect. This course aims to give students the skills to make use of these data sources and become computational social scientists themselves.”
In the space of a few years data sourced from the “social web” (platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google) has come to occupy an important place in social science research. The astonishing uptake of social platforms around the world, and the relatively open, structured nature of the data they produce, offers the tantalising possibility of studying a wide variety of different social research questions in a way that previously would have been impossible.
Already a number of fascinating studies have used data from such platforms to shed new light on diverse concepts such as information diffusion, political behaviour and mobilisation in social movements. However, the appearance of such data sources creates a challenge for the social sciences. If researchers are to be able to access and manipulate it, they will need to add elementary computer programming skills to their methodological toolkit, which are often overlooked in traditional undergraduate and master’s courses. This four week methods course aims to address this need.
Those following the course will learn the essentials of programming in Python, the language of choice in the growing field of computational social science. In particular, the focus will be on using the language to access data from a diverse variety of sources on the social web (from Twitter and Facebook to Reddit, Youtube or the front page of the New York Times), and to transform this material into datasets which are amenable to traditional social science analysis.
By the end of the course, students will:
- Have knowledge of the range of social science research taking place using data from the social web;
- Have a grasp of key methodological issues involved in the collection and processing of these types of data, and the key challenges in using social data to answer social research questions;
- Have a solid grounding in the use of the Python programming language for social research.
Students taking this course have looked at the diffusion of hashtags on Instagram, the use of Twitter for prediction, spread of discourses on social media and the language behind political satire.