School of Social and Behavorial Sciences
Arizona State University
shawn.w at asu dot edu
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My research focuses on two complementary areas: 1) new forms of political participation emerging on social media platforms and 2) the related challenges of collecting, analyzing, and working with data from these platforms. This work examines how new forms of political participation are emerging on social media platforms through the analysis of social media posts surrounding social movements, protests, and elections. My work on social media methods also addresses gaps in our understanding about social media data, collection methods, and the implications (ethics, representation, etc.) of using those methods. I recieved my PhD in Information Science from the University of Washington Information School. I am a founding member of the Social Media (SoMe) Lab @ UW and a member of the DataLab. I also earned degrees in International Studies, and Liberal Studies, with a focus on public policy and technology, from Northern Kentucky University
Just as social media has permeated communication in our public and private lives, it has also become a widely used data source and object of study in academic and commercial research. Social media data contains not only the ‘post’ or ‘update’ itself, but also the URLs, images, videos, and metadata (posting data, user profile information, location, etc.) embedded in or accompanying the post. Despite widespread use, relatively little is known about how social media datasets change when observed at different points over time or how collection methods may impact the data at the core of our research projects. For example: Will results differ if social media data are collected as it is produced in real-time, a few minutes after production, hours, days, or weeks later? What happens to the metadata, links to web pages, photos, and videos embedded in this content over time? If data collection methods do not preserve and archive social media posts, metadata, and linked content; are researchers venturing into a new dataset each time they engage with it? A combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches are used to examine how social media datasets change over time and how this change impacts the reliability and authenticity of social media datasets. I use three Twitter-based case studies, each exhibiting prototypical elements social scientists encounter in their research. The three cases studies are: 1) the Occupy Wall Street movement, 2) Departments of Transportation on the West Coast of the US, and 3) the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. This work will advance the field of information science by empirically investigating how the ephemeral nature of social media data, metadata, and linked content have significant and lasting effects on the reliability and authenticity of datasets used in research. Situating research design decisions, specifically choices made on how and when to observe data, within the frameworks of process theory and archival theory, this work brings the importance of methodological considerations to the forefront of studies of digital and social media.