Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Highlights from the 2016 #SMSociety - International Conference on Social Media & Society

After a year of planning and preparations, it’s hard to believe that the 2016 International Conference on Social Media & Society is now officially part of the history. But what amazing three days they were. Now, in its 7th year, the 2016 Conference was held from July 11-13 at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. The conference was organized by the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University (Canada) and co-hosted by the Big Data & Society Journal (BD&S) along with the Centre for Creative & Social Technologies (CAST) at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Thank you to all Volunteers, Attendees, Presenters, Program Committee, Partners, our keynotes, Dr. Susan Halford (Web Science Institute, University of Southampton, UK) and Dr. Helen Kennedy (University of Sheffield, UK), and everyone who made this year's conference a huge success! Let’s do it again! Mark your calendar, the 2017 International Conference on Society Media & Society will be in Toronto on July 28-30, 2017. (CfP will be released later this fall.)

In case you missed the conference this year (or just want to relive some highlights), here is a list of online resources for you:
Also not to be missed, here is a list of blog posts by the conference attendees:

~2016 #SMSociety Organizing Committee
Anatoliy Gruzd, Philip Mai, Marc Esteve Del Valle, Ryerson University, Canada;
Jenna Jacobson, University of Toronto, Canada; 
Evelyn Ruppert, Dhiraj Murthy, Ville Takala, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK;

Friday, 15 July 2016

Online health and fitness apps in a platform society - José Van Dijck and Thomas Poell

by José Van Dijck and Thomas Poell

Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of health and fitness apps have flooded the internet. What are the promises these apps make and what premises are they based on? Many apps promise to offer personal solutions to medical problems while also contributing to the public good. Online platforms serve as personalized data-driven services to their customers. At the same time, they allegedly serve public interests, such as medical research or health education. In doing so, health and fitness apps often employ a diffuse discourse, hinging on terms like ‘‘sharing,’’ ‘‘open,’’ and ‘‘reuse’’ when they talk about data extraction and distribution.

Through three examples (23andme, PatiensLikeMe and Parkinson mPower), our recent article in Big Data & Society "Understanding the promises and premises of online health platforms" traces how the mechanisms of datafication and commodification introduce a new dynamic in health care and health research. In this domain, datafication means that every aspect of one’s physical or mental well-being is translated into data— vital signs, objective measurements, subjective experiences, medicine intake, personal information, test results, etc. Data can be private and personal (e.g., recorded symptoms, experiences) or they can be public and collective (e.g., clinical research data, health demographics, statistics); data can be user-generated and reported automatically through devices, such as electronic heartbeat apps, or users themselves can contribute data consciously, for instance through deploying pedometers.  What kinds of (user) data do platforms collect, how do they collect them, and how do they process and reuse those data?

These kind of questions are important when we try to analyse how datafied information is transformed into (monetary) value. Some platforms sell health information products to customers, sometimes in combination with advertisements; other apps are free to users in exchange for their personal data, which may be shared with paying co-patients and most important industrial partners. Virtually all platforms collaborate with such partners: high-tech firms and pharmaceutical or medical equipment companies. Some also partner with universities, government services, or a combination thereof, mixing for profit and nonprofit. A minority of health platforms is operated via government or nonprofit organizations, intent on pursuing public values and yielding public goods. The question is which business model is used for what purposes, who owns and operates the platform, and who gets to benefit from its products?

We conclude the article by connecting these individual examples to the wider implications of health apps’ data flows, governance policies, and business models. Regulatory bodies tend to focus on the (medical) safety and security of apps, but pay scarce attention to health apps’ techno-economic governance. It is important to look beyond the utilitarian regulatory scope that most governments are currently envisioning and understand the technical and social dynamics underpinning the ecosystem. Who owns user-generated health data and who gets to benefit? Whereas legislators are commonly called upon to define ontological and normative standards, their power seems weakened in the face of an emerging global ecosystem of online platforms, whose techno-economic dynamics appear to operate autonomously. Hence, it takes the concerted efforts of not only governments, but also citizens, responsible scientists, and entrepreneurs to secure the checks and balances in the organization of health care in a future platform society.

This article is part of a larger research project called The Platform Society. In this project, we critically examine how online platforms—ranging from MOOCs to health apps, and from social media to sharing economy platforms—penetrate all kinds of sectors of public life such as education, health care, journalism, and civic engagement. The project’s starting point is the question: what role do platforms play in the development and realization of key public values? Our research shows that the mutual articulation of technologies, economies, and practices produces three powerful mechanisms –datafication, commodification, and selection- that reshape how societal organizations operate and how public value is produced.

About the authors:

José van Dijck 

José van Dijck is a professor of Comparative Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her work covers a wide range of topics in media theory, media technologies, social media, television and culture. For more information see:

Thomas Poell

Thomas Poell is an assistant professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on social media and the transformation of public communication around the globe. See: medewerker.uva.nl/t.poell/

Monday, 23 May 2016

Dave Beer introduces his new article "How should we do the history of Big Data?"

In this video abstract, Dave Beer, Reader in Sociology at the University of York, introduces his new article in Big Data & Society "How should we do the history of Big Data?

Monday, 18 April 2016

Book by BD&S Author Dennis Mazur: Science in Medicine (2015)

by Dennis Mazur
Scientific data can be used in medicine or it can be ignored by physicians and others. I began my search of the use of scientific evidence based on the analysis of large data sets for the state in the work of John Graunt in the 1600s and in the work on developing and analyzing large data sets to prove the efficacy of a surgical procedure, lithotrity, by French urologist, Jean Civale, in the 1800s.  Two commentaries on these examples were published in Big Data & SocietyBig Data in the 1800s in surgical science and Analyzing and interpreting “imperfect” Big Data in the 1600s.

The commentaries are related to my book, Science in Medicine: From Authoritative Opinion through Evidence-Based Medicine to Big Data and Beyond, which examines the history of the development of science in medicine from its origins in authoritative opinion through evidence-based medicine to Big Data today and beyond. I examine what was needed in medicine before there was an acceptance of the importance of the construction and examination of large data sets. Firstly, I examine what shifted some physicians’ views toward acceptance of the construction and analysis of large data sets as important understand how to best treat their patients and secondly, what obstacles remain in the minds of other physicians who still remain reluctant to recognize the importance of well-constructed and well-analyzed large data sets in the care of their patients. 

About the author
Dr. Mazur has served as Senior Scholar, Center for Ethics in Health Care, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Portland, Oregon, USA; has served as Professor of Medicine, OHSU; and had served as Feature Editor of the journal Medical Decision Making.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Introducing the Social Media & Society Special Theme

With faster computers and cheaper storage, bigger data sets are becoming abundant. Social media is a key source of big data in the form of user and system generated content and interactions. What do we do with all of the social data and how do we make sense of it? How does the use of social media platforms and the data that they generate change us, our organizations, and our society? What are the inherent challenges and issues associated with working with social media data? These are some of the questions we set out to answer in a new special theme on Social Media & Society in Big Data & Society (BD&S), an open access journal published by SAGE.

This special theme is built around research presented at the International Conference on Social Media & Society (#SMSociety),  an annual interdisciplinary academic conference organized by the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University.  The Conference features both quantitative and qualitative interdisciplinary works related to the broad theme of ‘Social Media & Society’. The first set of papers, published under this theme and being announced here, came from the 2014 Conference (Toronto, Canada, September 27-28).

This special theme is unique in a number of ways. First, it includes works that specifically focus on the intersection of big data and social media research. Second, papers in this theme take a user-centric perspective to studying big data practices. They do this by examining how or why different user groups rely on social media and in turn contribute to the rapid growth of user-generated big data. Finally, this special theme presents studies that take a more granular look at ‘big’ data through careful sampling and the application of both quantitative and qualitative methods. 

You can access the full text of papers in this special theme of Big Data & society at: http://bds.sagepub.com/content/social-media-society.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Editor Evelyn Ruppert responding to Frank Pasquale keynote on ‘The Promise (and Threat) of Algorithmic Accountability’

On Tuesday 26 January, 2016, Frank Pasquale, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland and author of The Black Box Society, will be delivering a public lecture at the launch of LSE’s MSc in Media and Communications (Data and Society). He will be focusing on recent controversies over the “right to be forgotten” and alternative credit scoring (such as proposals to base loan approvals on qualities of the applicant’s social network contacts), and propose reforms essential to humane automation of new media and banking. Editor Evelyn Ruppert will be responding to his lecture.

See http://www.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2016/01/20160126t1830vSZT.aspx for more details.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Deadline approaching: ISRF Essay Competition

The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) and Big Data & Society (BD&S) announce the 2016 ISRF Early Career Researcher Essay Competition. A prize of CHF 1,000 will be awarded for the best 5,000 to 7,000 word essay on the topic 'Influence and Power'. Authors are encouraged to choose an essay title within this field. The winner will be invited to present their work at a special event at the Social Media & Society 2016 conference (Goldsmiths, University of London) and will have the conference fee waived and travel costs covered. Participants should either be current doctoral students or within three years of being awarded their doctorate. For more information including criteria and goals visit isrf.org.

We kindly remind you that the deadline for submissions is 31 January 2016.