Blog for Socy 676

Author: everingtone

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.

Evaluating the Method

Content Analysis

Keeping It in “the Family”: How Gender Norms Shape U.S. Marriage Migration Politics

By Gina Marie Longo


In this research study, the researcher is trying “to investigate how petitioners interpret and deploy gendered relationship criteria to claim legitimacy under U.S. immigration policies.” She also investigated the differences in reasonings and problems citizens face when marrying a foreigner based on their sexuality. To find data, she analyzed conversation threads from two of Immigration Pathway’s regional forums: the Middle East/North African (MENA) forum and the Belarus/Russia/Ukraine (BRU) forum. She used an analytic process called constructivist grounded theory to incorporate members’ stories into the analysis to determine the “what, how, and why” of their evaluations. She looked at what were looked at as “red flags” by petitioners on these forum threads. She used a script written in Python to collect, clean and conduct a key-word search for the term “red flag” on the conversation threads from 2008 to 2014 across 13 regional forums. She analyzed discussions on the forums to show how short courtships, age differences, sending money and seeking romance became red flags based on gender while being considered for signs of marriage fraud. She hypothesized that men and women petitioners would conceptualize red flags and genuineness differently and the women’s sexual and family behavior would be more scrutinized by both men and women. She found that women’s sexuality and gender differentially structure the process of negotiating red flags for men and women petitioners and the right to confer citizenship and provides sexual privileges to men citizens and causes women citizens to be looked down upon. She also found that forum members agree that to have a genuine relationship, women petitioners must be fertile and reproductive and that aging women cannot achieve legitimacy since they are past the reproductive prime while men’s sexuality is not tied to their reproductive capacity. The researcher argues that the online forum allows petitioners essentially to become border patrollers even before their cases reach actual immigration authorities through their interpersonal interactions and states that the study demonstrates the need to place more theoretical focus on how virtual spaces are consequential for re-imaging intersectional gendered citizenship and the policing of national identities and borders. She also mentions how male and female citizens look to marry outside of the U.S. due to the fact that they believe the members of the opposite sex in the West have lost the traditional family values they desire.

Content Analysis

The researcher in this study is coding the number of red flag threads throughout the regional forums that she studied. She also coded the percentage of posts by female posters and the percentage of posts by male posters as well as the percentage of posts by posters who did not identify their gender. I believe she used an inductive methodological approach based on the fact that she was trying to find the theory of the data.

Strengths and Weaknesses?


The data was relatively easy to obtain and inexpensive since it was all accessible online. It provided a quantitative analysis of data which would be easy to repeat. The method was unobtrusive and ethical as it didn’t involve the researcher to interact with any of the people being studied and since the posters used pseudonyms, they are not able to be identified.


I’m sure the data collection was time consuming and may not give an actual look at the people’s lives being studied, meaning the posts were just brief moments into these people’s lives and may not give a full description of their relationships.

I think the researcher captured what issues petitioners face when trying to interpret gendered relationship criteria well by looking for the red flag posts well. If I were to conduct the study I might have looked at the number of red flagged marriages that were fraudulent and compared them to the number that were flagged that were actually genuine to see how the petitioners were affecting genuine relationships.

Speaking ‘Unspeakable Things’: Documenting Digital Feminist Responses to Rape Culture

By Jessalynn Keller, Kaitlynn Mendes and Jessica Ringrose


The researchers in this study explore a topic talked about in the 2014 book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution by journalist Laurie Penny. The “paper examines the ways in which girls and women are using digital media platforms to challenge…street harassment, sexual assault and the policing of the body and clothing in school settings.” It explores the affective experiences of girls and women posting and consuming digital feminist activism on social media. They ask what experiences of harassment, misogyny and rape culture are girls and women responding to? How are girls and women using digital media technologies to document experiences of sexual violence, harassment and sexism? And, why are girls and women choosing to mobilize digital media technologies in such a way? They get their data by conducting interviews, employing content analysis of digital media and textual analysis searching for the keywords: feminism; activism; affect; twitter; rape culture.

They argue that both feminism and misogyny are becoming increasingly visible in our culture and that teenage girls are becoming feminist activists online and in their schools while overt sexism appears to have become simultaneously visible across online and offline spaces. They also argue that the “plague” of misogyny, the abuse of women and rape culture has manifested itself as a “normative reaction” in our culture through digital media spaces. The researchers “aim to contribute to the use of a more diverse set of theoretical tools to investigate digital culture” and “draw on an emerging body of work that uses theories to affect to examine digital life in ways that moves beyond the media texts to explore digital media practices and publics.” They also question the validity of digital media to produce the “real” change of protest politics, suggesting that the mediated voices function as protest to rape culture.

They found that “not only is feminist activism now more visible with media culture,” but they “have demonstrated the affective nature of new forms of sharing, connection and solidarity previously impossible through speaking about experiences of rape culture. They also found that the “radical potential of digital culture to reanimate feminist politics online and off” needs to explored further.

Content Analysis:

They are coding for:

  1. Posts to the online anti-street harassment website Hollaback!
  2. Experiences of using the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported.
  3. Teen feminists’ use of social media platforms to challenge rape culture in and around schools.

They used a discursive textual analysis to explore the forms of connectivity and sharing enables through speaking about rape culture via digital platforms.

I believe their approach to be inductive based on the fact that they examined specific uses of social media and hashtags to come to a generalized conclusion of how women are using different media platforms.

Strengths and weaknesses:


The data was relatively easy to obtain and inexpensive since it was all accessible online. It provided a look at different media and how women are using tools such as hashtags to answer the questions proposed by the researchers. The method was unobtrusive and ethical as it didn’t involve the researcher to interact with any of the people being studied and since the posters used pseudonyms, they are not able to be identified.


The researchers only looked at three different methods that women were using the internet to speak about rape culture and harassment. I feel like there is a vast amount of data that could have been collected. Also, I’m sure the data was time consuming to collect.

I think they missed out on data they could have collected from many other more popular social media platforms. They also didn’t mention anything about the #metoo movement which sparked a revolution with women coming out online about being harassed and raped.

Is Ethical Digital Research Possible?

What Does Ethical Digital Research Mean?

Digital research consists of using online data to compile information on a subject or multiple subjects. In the second decade of the 21st century, a grand narrative is emerging that posits knowledge derived from data analytics as true, because of the objective qualities of data, their means of collection and analysis, and the sheer size of the data set (Markham et al. 2018). The problem with digital research is it can remove the human being from the research and compile data based on a person without their knowledge. To me, ethical digital research means using the data derived from a person is for the greater good. It can be used to solve problems, educate, enhance experiences and even make predictions. I believe for digital research to be ethical it should follow the criteria listed in the six categories of exemption of a research study to qualify for exemption which specifies the data was derived from does not put the person at risk or allows them to be identified.

The Internal Review Board

The purpose of the IRB is to assure that participant’s rights and welfare are protected during a research study.  They try to assure that the appropriate steps are taken by researches to ensure this. But, for big data research, most of the time the humans are not aware that their data is being used for a study. Yes, most of us are aware of analytics being used by advertisers to directly reach us but most people are unaware that data on them is being used to conduct scientific studies. Often, the ethic is engendered not directly through the actions of the researcher, but indirectly through the absence of questioning the validity of variables in a world that has long since discovered (Kuhn, 1962) that our basic paradigms about what things are, or how they work, are not naturally “true,” but an outcome of debate, persuasion, and other social interactions among scientists (Markham et al. 2018). The IRB’s measures are set in place to protect human participant’s in research studies, but if a person doesn’t know that their digital data is being used in a scientific study, are they really a participant? With the evolution of technology, I don’t believe the IRB is fully capable of protecting digital spaces or at least helping to keep members of a study who don’t want their data being used to be used.

Human Rights in Digital Research

Humans have a right to privacy. But, they give up that right when they go off of their private property and onto the publicly owned sidewalk or drive down the publicly owned street in their car. The same goes for the digital space, they give up their privacy when they post a thought on Facebook or tweet a feeling about a certain topic on Twitter. This makes it difficult to protect a person when they enter the digital space. If you search a topic on Google, that is being monitored and that data is being stored and used by analytics and even researchers can access that data. It is up to the person to protect themself in digital spaces. For example, It is possible to remain anonymous and have your right to privacy better protected by using different search engines than say Google or Yahoo. Duckduckgo is a search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy by avoiding personalized search results. DuckDuckGo does not profile its users by previous searches and shows all users the same search results only based on key words in the search.  While using big data on people in digital spaces can affect their privacy, it can also be completely anonymous data that doesn’t affect them at all.

Protecting Subjects

Some things researchers can do to protect the subjects they use in research studies are:

  • Do not use children under the age of 18.
  • Do not identify their subjects unless they have permission from the subject.
  • Determine if any risk is associated with the study with the safety of the subject before conducting the study.
  • Determine that the data being used by the subject is for a good cause.


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