Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: social media (page 1 of 2)

What is to be done (with Facebook)?

I’m not on Facebook. Never have been. Or Twitter. Or Instagram. Certainly not SnapChat or any of those newfangled things. But as a social scientist I’ve increasingly found useful the data that other people make public in such settings. Some reasons are pragmatic. The public has become exhausted by surveys, and are too busy to participate in interviews and workshops, at the same time that environmentally minded graduate students have become increasingly less likely to have drivers’ licenses and thus less able to head out on field work to run them. Human ethics research boards are generally unconcerned with data that people voluntarily place in the public domain, allowing quick pilot work using social media across a range of topics and publics. If you take user agreements and settings literally and assume that those data have been volunteered, it is quite easy to be ethical by aggregation and citation, like you would any source. Finally, I believe there is very real understanding to be gained by using such data as proxies to understand human values, preferences, behaviours, and yearnings. My qualitative methods course finished up this week with presentations, and it took my breath away what insight the students gained over a month on topics as diverse as sexually transmitted disease infection, sustainable food conceptualizations, and human disturbance of migratory shorebirds thanks to posts on Reddit and Instagram.

So then comes the recent horrifying news over Facebook and its business model: unscrupulously selling access to large volumes of personal data to even less scrupulous companies like Cambridge Analytica. So what do I do now, besides a quick (and perhaps smug) wipe of the brow with relief that I did not aid in either Trump or Brexit? The furor suggests that many people, maybe even some of the same ones who so clearly cherish unknown followers, are not aware their data is available to people like me.  They may not see my intentions differently than the infamous personality test that fed Cambridge Analytica, for instance if I advertise a scholarly survey via Facebook to target a very specific group not otherwise easy to capture. Moreover, how implicated might I feel if I paid them for that access, knowing now what kind of algorithms are driving that cleverness? Perhaps the lesson for researchers is the same as the lessons for social media users more generally; a somewhat Methodist moral that if something is effortless, there may be something wrong with it. Yet I will mourn the loss of access to social riches that will inevitably follow this news.

Frontiers letter on culturomics

"Wood you like to go for a walk?" Captions do not always tell the whole story.

“Wood you like to go for a walk?” Captions do not always tell the whole story.

Pleased to see that our ‘Write Back’ letter on images and interdisciplinarity in ‘culturomics‘ has been published today in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. We were responding to an article late 2016 by Ladle et al. on conservation culturomics, emphasizing the growing importance of analyzing images, as well as associated text, in the growing field of culturomics initiated by Google Ngram. Also thrilled by the productive response by Ladle et al. that follows our piece in today’s volume. Editors do not always facilitate this kind of dialogue, but I think it is a really effective way to advance thinking.

Yan Chen at IAIA in Montreal

Yan Chen chatting with another attendee at IAIA 2017 in Montreal.

Yan Chen chatting with another attendee at IAIA 2017 in Montreal.

Congratulations to Yan Chen, who represented Energy Transitions in Canada at this year’s International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) meeting in Montreal. Climate change was the main theme this year. This conference is less academic than most she has attended and includes many people from the private sector and government departments, including consultants ‘selling’ their new services and tools. Her presentation, Using geo-tagged social media data to map landscape values, was in the second half of the session titled “Digital Impact Assessment”, Wednesday afternoon, April 5th, along with two other presenters focused on pipelines. She talked about her work using Instagram to understand landscape values around hydroelectricity proposals in BC (Site C) and NB (Mactaquac). She was keeping an eye out for the team about news around new SIA tools leveraging social media, but didn’t see much.

 

Another successful Globalink internship

With Jingwen (June) Qin on her last day as a Mitacs Globalink intern.

With Jingwen (June) Qin on her last day as a Mitacs Globalink intern.

Farewell to Jingwen (June) Qin, who headed back to China early this morning to begin her final undergraduate year of urban planning at Wuhan University. She has been working with me on a research project this summer, funded by the Mitacs Globalink, using Sina Weibo social media to understand Chinese student perspectives on Halifax. It was great to have her overlap with Ruoqian (Joy) Wang, last year’s Globalink intern, who has just arrived to begin her MES at SRES with Karen Harper and I. I hope June takes a similar path back to us next year. Thank you, and bon voyage, June.

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