Blog for Socy 676

Month: April 2020

Evaluating Digital Ethnography

Uncovering longitudinal life narratives: scrolling back on Facebook

By: Brady Robards and Sian Lincoln

The authors in this study look to see how the “scrolling back” method of analyzing data on Facebook can add to qualitative longitudinal research (QLR). They argue that ‘scrolling back’ through Facebook with participants as ‘co-analysts’ of their own digital traces can add to the QLR tradition. They also discuss how QLR and the scroll back method attend to a similar set of concerns around change over time, the depth of inquiry and uncovering rigorous, rich life narratives and explore limitations and ethical challenges, while also arguing for the inclusion of these digital texts. They also consider how the scroll back method could apply to other digital media. This research project focused on 34 young people in their twenties who have been using Facebook for more than five years. The Timeline serves as a prompt to elicit story-telling about young people’s experiences of growing up as documented on FacebookThey found that researchers must approach social media in an informed, ethically reflexive way. Whereas in quantitative approaches, large data sets from social media are being ‘mined’ and ‘harvested’, a qualitative approach has much to offer when it comes to discussions of consent, intentionality, recruiting participants as co-analysts, and treating this ‘data’ as an often personal record of lived experience. They also found that the participants in the study became more aware of the length and depth of their digital traces.

They used digital ethnography on Facebook data to see how it captured ‘growing up’ narratives and experiences throughout the teenage years and early twenties.

They define digital ethnography as a digital tool to uncover previous moments in the lives of the participants and as searchable data that they can get direct quotes from their participants. They suggest that it should be approached ethically and by not using direct quotes in their research to protect their participants from being able to be searched and quoted.

The strengths of the ‘scrolling back’ technique that the researchers explored is that the data is cheap and easy to find. But, as they mentioned, weaknesses include how the context and participants do change over time.

Ethnographic Research in a Cyber Era

By: Ronald E. Hallett and Kristen Barber

The researchers in this article argue that as the Internet increasingly frames lived experiences, researchers need to consider how to integrate data from online spaces into “traditional” ethnographic research and that studying a group of people in their “natural habitat” now includes their “online habitat.” The article explains how online spaces are needed to more fully understand physical environments and issues studied. Michael Burawoy defines ethnography as “the study of people in their own time and space, in their own everyday lives.” The researchers in the study argue that it is no longer imaginable to conduct ethnography without considering online spaces and compare emails, blogs and Facebook posts to handwritten letters arguing that ethnographers studying contemporary social life should consider online spaces as another “level” or site where their participants live. They define cyber-ethnographers as ones who design studies that often look solely at online life by examining blogs, chat rooms, and other online interactions but they argue that ethnographers need to include online spaces into traditional ethnographic research because digital spaces permeate all aspects of personal life, redefining people’s relationships not only with other individuals but also with institutions. They argue that the internet is changing the way people work and consume.

They define digital ethnography as an essential component of understanding social life in the cyber era.

The strengths of their argument is that they are right. As the cyber era continues to grow, more and more people are spending more time online in a digital space, connecting with friends and conducting business and ethnographers need to utilize the data available to fully understand how conduct themselves. This paper are that it was written in 2013, when smart phones were just becoming a thing that everybody had. People have been gradually shifting towards spending a lot of their time in digital spaces. I think they did a good job of predicting how many people will be shifting their lives to digital spaces. Also, I think it would be important to note how the Covid-19 pandemic has made their arguments even more prevalent as quarantine life has emerged many new ways to interact with people and conduct business in a digital space.

A weakness of this paper is that in 2013 people weren’t as privy to how their online interactions can be used in the future and how things they say and do online can come back to them. I think that a lot of people now are more conscious of that and are more private online due to the fact so some aspects of using digital ethnography can get skewed based on that.

The two articles are very different but I think they have the same view on digital ethnography. One was an actual study and one was pretty much just a long way to say we need to look at people’s lives online as part of ethnography today. So, I think the article about scrolling back on Facebook was more relevant as it actually uncovered information about using online data, the other one just argued that we should use online data.

Hashtag Analysis

Riots and Twitter: connective politics, social media and framing discourses in the digital public sphere

By: Phillip Pond and Jeff Lewis

This paper discusses how social media sites have enabled new forms of connective action through hashtags, memes and personalized action frames in political movements. It analyzes software systems, issue publics and discourse to give an account of connective politics during riot clean-up movements. It argues that networks assemble and mobilize through the activation of discourse within a wider media sphere of competing discourses. They get their data from Twitter by extracting hashtags from the “riot sample” using a cross-referencing process to determine the hashtags that define the dominant genres of topical discourse on Twitter during the period of interest. The researchers identified the five hashtags: #UKRiots, #LondonRiots, #RiotCleanUp, #OperationCupofTea and #Riots. This paper also argues that ambience must be a product of systemic interaction among software, users and text. The paper found that networked relationships – horizontal, widely distributed, weak-tie connections between social actors are but one component of a human-user system that is part of a large systematic, communicative assemblage. This paper also found that the hashtag #OperationCupofTea is an arbitrary signifier that reveals nothing about the people engaging in riot clean-up work, nor their motivations, meaning that connective action can only be understood through careful exploration and analysis of the discourses that created and propagated the action frames. This paper also found that it is not sufficient simply to describe discourse in the riot public, it is necessary to differentiate between discourses in a way that can explain connective influence.

The researchers use an empirical method to identify, analyze and compare three elements of hashtag specific discourse: 1) establishing an overview of discourse by identifying the dominant hashtags during the relevant period, 2) It must be able to differentiate between these hashtags in a way that supports a critical analysis of their relative influence and 3) it must reveal clues as to why some discourses energize group mobilization and others do not by providing a mechanism for interpreting this influence in terms of connective action. They used an inductive approach to their study by using different hashtags to find a correlation between them.


The strength is that they used data that was already online so it was easy and cheap to obtain. The weakness is that they used a limited number of tweets, they only used 1000 which is a lot but it limited the sample number.

Understanding a digital movement of opinion: the case of #RefugeesWelcome

By: Mauro Barisione, Asimina Michailidou and Massimo Airoldi

This paper analyzes the digital discussion around the Twitter hashtag #RefugeesWelcome as a case of “digital movement of opinion’ (DMO). It argues that the idea that citizen voice through social media can give rise, under given conditions, to a specific digital force combining properties of social movements and public opinion has received less attention. They also argue that the DMO concept is heuristically useful for the research on new forms of digital citizen participation, because it (1) provides an ideal-type allowing to study empirical cases by observing their adherence and deviations from the theoretical construct; (2) isolates the digital dimension of citizen participation, both as a methodological strategy and an epistemological posture; (3) bridges public opinion and social movement theories and thereby helps apprehend new/future forms. They use the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome on Twitter to collect their data. The researchers found that the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome gained momentum and rose to DMO status in the early stages of its life cycle and that it created a powerful digital voice that provided legitimacy to the refugee crisis and pro-refugee movement.

The researchers in this study used an inductive approach because they tried to determine the digital movement of opinion by analyzing the hashtags #RefugeesWelcome. They used three different methods: They used a triangulation of Twitter data, metadata and a qualitative analysis of text-based content.


The strength is that they used data that was already online so it was easy and cheap to obtain. The weakness is that they only analyzed one hashtag, which might have narrowed the findings too much. I feel like they should have analyzed more hashtags.

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