“Twitterology: a new science?”

Ben Zimmer writes in the New York Times about Twitter’s appeal to social scientists who are looking for real-time language data and social interactions to analyze. He writes: “Twitter’s appeal to researchers is its immediacy – and its immensity. Instead of relying on questionnaires and other laborious and time-consuming methods of data collection, social scientists can simply take advantage of Twitter’s stream to eavesdrop on a virtually limitless array of language in action.”

Examples of how Twitter has been used by researchers include tracking on-the-ground sentiment in Egypt and Libya over the course of the Arab Spring, looking at how emotions may relate to the rhythms of daily life, and building maps of regional language use across the United States.

Read the full article here.

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Social scientists/humanities scholars should treat this idea with caution. The degree of algorithmic (or even intentional) pre-filtering of twitter’s various API feeds is unclear, tweeters are clearly a non-representative (& non-random) sample who are self-selecting a) as users/tweeters and b) as those who choose to make tweets public and even c) those who choose to allow geo-coding of tweets if that’s your analytic interest. Response bias is therefore unclear and potentially unknowable. Generalisability of results is therefore dubious. I’d encourage anyone thinking about using these and related kinds of data to consider @katecrawford and @zephoria’s Six Provocations for Big Data… Read more »

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