Email Data

In recent years, technology and the internet have revolutionized how we communicate in the world. We can say that Email- is one of the most fruitful inventions that came out of developing technology and the internet. Email is widely used for professional, academic, and personal purposes. Russel (2011) suggests that E-mails are inherently social as they involve interactions and conversations between two people. Additionally, since each E-mail text is written in human language, the data that can be mined from the archived Emails is very valuable as it can provide insight into an individual’s opinion and behavior. However, in social sciences, researchers are still reluctant to use E-mail data as a data source for social research (Au and Marks, 2013). The primary reasons for this reluctance are E-mail’s confusing role of the formal and informal source of data as often the exchanges and conversations on E-mail are non-deliberate. Also, social scientists have always been abiding by IRB guidelines while conducting social research, but, E-mail data can potentially violate participant’s confidentiality (Au and Marks, 2013). As a result, social scientists can be a little hesitant in using E-mail archived data as their source of data. However, many studies have been conducted based on such data before.

The 2016 study “Sociology Study Using Email Data and Social Network Analysis” by Rafiq utilized data mining techniques to mine the email data of 23 graduate students to examine how social perspectives and behaviors are different in real life and in email conversations in their respective social roles. The study conducted a survey with the same 23 students and asked them questions about their social roles, opinions, and social perspectives. Later, Rafiq performed the validation process by comparing the results of the survey and email data to find the similarities and analyze whether the society and individuals behave the same way in their real life and in cyberspace. By applying social network analysis techniques, the study found that social structure of the students in the cyberspace and real life was nearly the same.

The 2008 study “Change in conflict message appropriateness during organizational crisis: An analysis of the Enron corpus” utilized Enron Corpus to analyze the organizational conflict via E-mail communication. The study coded a total number of 1976 emails from Enron corpus to examine the presence of conflict. From 1976 emails, the 203 emails were determined to include some form of conflict. Later, these 203 emails were coded for the timing of the messages in context with the Enron crisis, the type of conflict, and level of appropriateness in the message. The study was grounded in Zillmann’s theory of impulsive aggression and examined whether the Enron crisis itself increased the conflict within the corporations as well as decreased the conflict message appropriateness. The study found that there was no relationship between the presence of crisis and either conflict frequency or conflict style. However, the study found that the appropriateness in the email messages decreased after the Enron crisis.

Similarly, a 2007 study” Automated Social Hierarchy Detection through Email Network Analysis” by Rowe et al utilized emails by Enron corpus to provide an algorithm for automatically extracting social hierarchy data from electronic communication behavior. The study analyzes the relationship between two email users based on their specific behavior pattern and then determine their place in the social hierarchy. By using the algorithm, the researchers assign a social score to each individual and rank them in most important to least important manner. By using this technique the study is able to provide us a snapshot of social hierarchy in the corporate community and effectively analyze the relationship between individuals.

Source: Automated Social Hierarchy Detection through Email Network Analysis

The email has been around longer than social media websites. It’s been used for personal, academic, and professional purposes. Email has become a mandatory part of our digital life. However, from this week’s readings and other articles, I think that using email data for the social research is definitely more difficult that mining data from Twitter for social research. Even if we are easily able to mine the email data, the question remains, is it ever going to be ethical to use such data? When we upload any type of data on social media, we know that it is uploaded for people to see or read. However, email is a type of digital communication which is often explicitly used for the privacy it provides. It is important to consider the ethical limitations of using such data.


One thought on “Email Data

  1. Your statement “the study found that the appropriateness in the email messages decreased after the Enron crisis” reveals the strength of digital data–you can get a before/after picture of how people responded to an event. It is difficult to get a before picture due to bias or faulty recollections. As I posted in Giny’s comments:

    “Email seems to me to the the historical record of the 21st century. Comparative historical research is a branch of sociological analysis which may be useful in understanding the impact of email on society. Particularly since it is post structural in analysis, i.e. focused on discourse as the foundation of society rather than labor/economy.”

    I think email could be a powerful tool in understanding how thinking, language, emotion contributed to an event. Think self-fulfilling prophecies. Or symbolic interaction theory. Email is the physical record of our interactions.

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