Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Changing Landscape of the Social-Media Deluge

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Changing Landscape of the Social-Media Deluge

Article excerpt

Software and skilled interpretation help in analysing the mass of user-generated media content, scholar tells Matthew Reisz.

According to a prominent academic in the field, the revolution in user-generated media content happened around the end of 2004.

The Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December that year, followed by the 7 July bombings in London and Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, spurred a huge rise in people using the internet and social media to document major events, according to Farida Vis, research fellow in the social sciences at the University of Sheffield.

"It coincides with technological changes such as (the spread of) camera phones, so you get material coming out of tsunami-hit areas or videos from the Tube in the aftermath of the London bombing," she said.

These developments have significant implications for anyone researching communications or the shifting nature of public opinion.

Dr Vis, who has established herself as an expert on these developments, has joined forces with Mike Thelwall, professor of information science at the University of Wolverhampton, to produce a textbook called Researching Social Media. It is expected to be published by Sage in November 2013.

Her career gives a good indication of both the opportunities and the challenges of working in this field.

When she started out as a researcher, Dr Vis wrote a PhD thesis analysing coverage by traditional media, namely newspapers, of violent events in the Middle East.

She has since gone on to look at responses to Hurricane Katrina on Flickr, reaction to the Dutch anti-Islamic film Fitna (2008) on YouTube and coverage of the 2011 London riots on Twitter.

The growing number of sources used in her analysis tell their own story. For the first of these three studies Dr Vis used 235 posts by 106 individuals, which she was able to collect herself. For the Fitna project, she examined 1,413 videos by 700 individuals - and, for the first time, "had to have software commissioned to do the project".

By the time Dr Vis turned her attention to last year's riots, the size of the available dataset had increased exponentially to a corpus of 2.6 million tweets by around 700,000 individuals, which naturally required a far larger team of researchers, coders and technological support.

"You can only read a sample of 2. …

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