Conference, Researching Social Media (Keynote): Curating a Digital Commonwealth

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, this one-day conference on Researching Social Media was aimed at policy makers, the business community, third sector and academic researchers and paid specific attention to methods and analytical approaches.

The conference was held on Monday 4 November 2013 at The Workstation in Sheffield and hosted by the University of Sheffield.

The conference included a keynote panel of leading social science, policy and industry researchers:

  • Francesco D’Orazio (Face Research)
  • Jennifer Jones (University of the West of Scotland, freelance creative practitioner)
  • Gareth Morrell (NatCen, lead on New Social Media, New Social Science? (NSMNSS) Network)
  • Katrin Weller (Information Scientist, GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences)

The conference also included three skills labs:

  1. A comprehensive review of different tools available for social media research (led by Farida Vis, University of Sheffield);
  2. Overview of quantitative approaches (led by Mike Thelwall, University of Wolverhampton);
  3. An overview of qualitative approaches (led by Gareth Morrell and Eve Stirling, University of Sheffield).

The conference offers a timely and important overview of different critical methodological and analytical approaches for dealing with social media data in social scientific, reliable ways.

Slides from  my keynote:


This paper focuses on the use of social, citizen and community media as a means of opening up channels of debate and discussion and offering new spaces for critique around major sporting and cultural events.  The paper draws on a case study of a participatory arts and media project #citizenrelay, which formed a strong community of local reporters and utilised everyday digital tools and techniques to cover the arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay in Scotland in the summer of 2012. Over recent years, citizen media movements have used ubiquitous mobile devices, freely available and shareable web platforms and a do-it-yourself ethos to subvert established representations in the mainstream media. Though disparate at times, individuals and collectives are now using hybrid media environments to mobilise, organise and discuss issues pertaining to restricted media frames around mega events, and beyond into other spheres of civic importance. They have, with varying degree of success, exploited the fact that “digital infrastructures offer citizens new channels for speaking and acting together and thus lower the threshold for involvement” (Bakardjieva et al, 2012. pi). The paper will explore how these abstract ambitions and aspirations were translated into practice in the #citizenrelay project. They emphasise the importance of immediacy (of content generation and upload), connectedness (physically and virtually), locality (the origin of stories), empowerment (to become media makers) and participation (the ethos of accessibility) as features of successful citizen journalism initiatives. The paper will conclude with an introduction to the Big Lottery funded Digital Commonwealth project  that focuses on using the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as a catalyst for enhancing digital literacies and explores the challenges of visualising, amplifying and archiving a project/dataset of this scale.

The Digital Commonwealth Vision:

The ambition of the Digital Commonwealth project is to enhance the capacity of individuals and groups to use freely available mobile digital (and social) media tools and techniques to ensure their voice(s) is heard in a saturated (and often commercially) motivated media landscape.  The Digital Commonwealth project focuses on lowering the threshold for involvement for individuals and groups so that they can be empowered to exploit creative tools and technologies to tell their stories, digitally. The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games provides a unique opportunity to enable (and support) individuals and communities to explore and articulate their own stories. The Games bring attention to issues of global citizenship and identity as a focal point at this important point in Scotland’s history and the project provides a space for a conversation to take place (and be recorded) that includes individuals and communities less well represented in mainstream media narratives. The project activities delivered will develop the foundational skills, capabilities and confidence in the ‘unvoiced’ to ensure they can make a digital media contribution in the lead up to, during, and after the Games.