Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Social Media Analytics: Implications for Journalism and Democracy 1

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Social Media Analytics: Implications for Journalism and Democracy 1

Article excerpt


Social media applications or platforms are fast-changing and take many forms. At their heart is electronically-mediated, peer-to-peer sharing of usergenerated content in communities or networks. Increasingly social media are used as channels for businesses, politicians, mainstream media organizations and others to communicate with their audiences, fans, users, customers, or supporters. The best-known include Facebook and Twitter, but as well as social networking and micro blogging sites, social media include blogs, discussion forums, social news sites, photo and video sharing, and review and rating sites. Social media analytics (or monitoring) tools have been developed and deployed in business, marketing, public relations and related fields to measure and analyze uses of social media - who is receiving it, where they are, what they are doing with it and how it circulates in networks. They work with a form of "big data" (boyd and Crawford 2012; Kitchin 2014; Kennedy 2016); vast data sets are analyzed by cross referencing with other datasets. A key characteristic of social media analytics is that they allow the graphical representation and visualization of data, making it digestible and accessible. Sociologists are seizing the opportunities afforded by "big data" generally (Ruppert et al. 2013), including in the area of social media analytics (e.g., Stieglitz and Dang-Xuan 2012). The main use of social media analytics, however, is to inform business decisions, regarding how products, brands and other content and messages are received and responded to as part of an attempt to inform or shape user responses. This paper outlines what they are used for, exemplifies the data they generate, discusses some of their limitations, in terms of validity and bias, examines the consequences of social media analytics for journalistic practices and democratic systems and concludes with some ideas about the ethics of data access and ownership.

Social Media and Journalism

Social media are used by journalists and media organizations for several connected but different purposes, making them a complex phenomenon to adopt and work with, as well as to understand. These include:

(i)Newsgathering. Social media are a source for mainstream journalists, especially for breaking news, in which context social media act as an alerting mechanism. Transforming journalistic practices, they are the contemporary version of the past journalistic practice of researching an issue by using a search engine and websites. Social media increase the diversity of sources, ideas, and eyewitnesses, and more quickly. Specifically, they are a source of user-generated content (UGC), which transforms the role of journalists and media organizations, extending the capacity to generate news content and the voices that are heard and speeding up news circulation.

(ii) Feeling the pulse. Social media allow journalists and editors to find out what is being said, to access opinions and reactions around the world, to see what is "trending" and what is being said or done and by whom.

(iii) Distributing content. Social media are used, rather like broadcasting, to generate or increase an audience, to enhance reach. This is something practiced by all major media organizations, as well as numerous other bodies and individuals. For the press and broadcasters, multiple platforms make distribution a more complex and expensive operation.

(iv) Engaging audiences. Social media provide new channels for journalists to talk with and listen to audiences, and in new ways. Crucially, they allow interactivity, enabling audiences, readers, or users to talk back and to contribute to debates. Again, this makes journalism more complex, and involves new tasks and skills.

(v) Generating traffic to news organizations' websites. Social media are now a significant referrer of traffic to news websites' multiple platforms while the significance of search engines for this purpose is in decline (Newman 2011). …

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