Research Reflection

Hello and welcome back!

Thirteen weeks later, my research on extracting data about feminism from Twitter is complete – but before I celebrate my last submitted assessment of the semester with a swagalicious, Obama-esque mic drop, I’m going to reflect on what I have learned about research practice in BCM212 this semester.

giphy (8)
source: giphy

A Brief Recap

Last semester in BCM240 I conducted a research task on a topic I picked at random at the last minute. I didn’t properly understand it and I had no interest in it whatsoever. This was reflected in the work I produced and in the grade I received. This semester, I was determined to not make the same mistake again.

A reading on GamerGate I studied for another subject outlined how to issue-map a controversial issue over social media platforms. I was fascinated by the design of the research because I hadn’t come across it before and thus I decided to recreate it on a much smaller scale, using feminism instead of GamerGate on the basis of this curiosity. Why draw up a survey and get, say 100 responses at best, when I have the entire twitter database at my disposal? View my research proposal and research update if you’d like to learn more.

It was a risky project to choose in that I’m more researching a form of research design – my aim is to figure out how much information I can extract from one hashtag – than a topic in particular. It’s really paid off in both my enjoyment of the task and the marks I have received so far. It made it really simple for me to follow my project plan (pictured below) and complete each task on time and to the best of my ability.

plan

This has been a valuable lesson to me. As someone who is not generally comfortable thinking outside the box and trying new things, I have discovered it can be really rewarding and insightful to walk down a new path.

Research Values

Socially responsible research design was difficult to comprehend in my research because I used social media data from Twitter to analyse a conversation. This meant I could not offer a privacy disclaimer, nor obtain consent from each user whose data I analysed (Buchanan et. al 2016). Internet data is a relatively new form of research. It has somewhat blurred the line between public and private data and, as such, there are no uniform principles on how to undertake it (ibid). All I had to go from was Twitter’s Privacy Policy documentwhich states that a user’s data, once posted to Twitter, may be stored and disseminated for a variety of uses (Twitter 2016). A user may opt to have their tweets and information kept private, but the default setting is public. If the user has taken no steps to change this, the data is considered public (Buchanan et. al 2016) and I have fulfilled my legal requirements as a researcher. However, this does not necessarily make my research ethical (University of Western Australia 2017).

To combat this I wrote a blog post on the difficulties of obtaining consent in a mass-social media data study and invited any user who did not wish for their data to be read to contact me regarding their concerns. Although I posted in on Twitter and tagged it “#feminism”, the same hashtag I was studying data from, I understand it is unrealistic to believe that all, or even most, participants will view it. This meant that my social responsibility value was still not fulfilled. I thus had to ensure identities remained protected, throughout my research I did not once mention any individual’s name or Twitter account specifically, all the data was discussed collectively. This is due to several factors; a user may be underage or come from an environment which is culturally sensitive now, or which may become so in the future (which is impossible to predict), in which case publishing or otherwise identifying their Tweets could jeopardise their liberty, or even their life in some extreme cases (Markham 2012). This is not something I had considered prior to beginning this project, I had assumed that once somebody posted data online it was public, but I have learned this doesn’t necessarily mean it can be used without careful consideration.

I strived to remain flexible in collecting and analysing my data. This involves remaining open-minded to surprise twists in the story of data collection (Grafanaki 2007). There were certain results which surprised me. For example, I had assumed that the underlying content discussed under #feminism would be the feminism argument in itself, but I discovered that (in the studied period) the conversation was dominated by public affairs or events which related to feminism in some way.

Overall?

 I feel that this project was successful. Despite being relatively small-scale, only collecting three days’ worth of data, over 5000 tweets were analysed collectively and I managed to pull some fascinating information out of Twitter which revealed a lot more about the feminism conversation than one might anticipate it would. In future subjects I hope to adopt similar methodology on a larger scale and develop more knowledge in the area of social media data research, because it’s a growing area with a growing interest from academic researchers and marketers alike.

References

Burgess, J 2016, Mapping sociocultural controversies across digital media platforms: one week of #gamergate on Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr, Communication Research and Practice, Vol. 2 (1) (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/22041451.2016.1155338?journalCode=rcrp20)

Grafanaki, S 2007, How research can change the researcher: The need for sensitivity, flexibility and ethical boundaries in conducting qualitative research in counselling/psychotherapy, Taylor & Francis, vol. 24 (3) (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03069889608253017

Markham, A 2012, Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research 2.0: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee, Association of Internet Researchers, accessed 16.04.17, https://aoir.org/aoir_ethics_graphic_2016/

Twitter 2016, Twitter Privacy Policy, Twitter, accessed 16.04.17, https://twitter.com/privacy

University of Western Australia 2017, Research Data Management Toolkit: Ethics, Privacy, Consent and Legal Issues, University of Western Australia, accessed 4 June 2017, http://guides.library.uwa.edu.au/c.php?g=325196&p=2178575

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