“Big data“ is an often-dismissed as a buzzword, full of promises but low on tangible results. This hasn’t stopped the interest in “big data” and its perceived potential. Full disclosure: I don’t have strong opinions on the topic, only an interest in where it’s heading.
Anatoliy Gruzd (Associate Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management) recently gave a lecture at the iSchool, entitled, “Research with Social Medial Data – Data Stewardship & Ethical Considerations.” Besides using social media for personal reasons, I’ve been interested in where social media intersects with literature and the humanities for a long time (i.e., BookTube) and, more recently, I’ve become aware of strategic social media marketing and networking (i.e., hours on Hootsuite and this blog) so this lecture was right up my alley.
Professor Gruzd addresses the issues surrounding “social media data stewardship,” or “all the processes related to the aspects of managing social media.” As with all big data, collection, storage, analysis, publishing, reuse, and preservation of data all cause a variety of problems. What was most interesting about Professor Gruzd’s lecture was the focus on ethics. He presents today’s focus on this topic as:
collection -> analysis -> preservation
What he suggests is missing from the conversation is a focus on ethical considerations throughout all of these steps. Since there is no standard for industries that collect big data from social media, there is a concern about data-leaks and how data is used. A loss of anonymity that comes from people-based marketing tools such as the Facebook Atlas ID raises serious concerns.
These concerns arise in research involving social media big data. Professor Gruzd points out the difficulty of ethical boards when it comes to social media, as opposed to in-person research. Moreover, data collectors are obligated to remove data like tweets if the user removes them. This makes historical studies very difficult. Public and non-profit preservation efforts are valiant in that they try to preserve our expressions of opinions and social concerns, but are inevitable skewed samples.
What I find interesting here is that if we are studying historical events, we are missing gaps where people may have destroyed incriminating letters or writing. Today, however, the attitude towards social media posts seems to be one of a collective conscience. Where does an individual’s desire to erase traces of their social media presence outweigh the public benefits of keeping this data accessible? Indeed, Professor Gruzd’s own research on the recent Ukraine Crisis is an example of the lack of stability in social media data.
Whether or not big data has profitability potential or whether it will be worth the investment in the long run, it is important to consider the effects of its use both in corporate and academic institutions. The lack of a larger framework of standards and policy concerning social media big data is a gap that needs to be filled, as Professor Gruzd points out.
Check out Anatoliy Gruzd’s Twitter for more new on big data!