Monday, 8 July 2019

Summer break

The Big Data and Society Editorial Team will be on summer break from July 15th until August 15th. Please accept delays in processing and reviewing your submission during that time.

Many thanks for your understanding.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Call for Special Theme Proposals for Big Data & Society

The SAGE open access journal Big Data & Society (BD&S) is soliciting proposals for a Special Theme to be published in late 2020 or early 2021. BD&S is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, scholarly journal that publishes research about the emerging field of Big Data practices and how they are reconfiguring academic, social, industry, business and government relations, expertise, methods, concepts and knowledge. BD&S moves beyond usual notions of Big Data and treats it as an emerging field of practices that is not defined by but generative of (sometimes) novel data qualities such as high volume and granularity and complex analytics such as data linking and mining. It thus attends to digital content generated through online and offline practices in social, commercial, scientific, and government domains. This includes, for instance, content generated on the Internet through social media and search engines but also that which is generated in closed networks (commercial or government transactions) and open networks such as digital archives, open government and crowd-sourced data. Critically, rather than settling on a definition the Journal makes this an object of interdisciplinary inquiries and debates explored through studies of a variety of topics and themes.

Special Themes can consist of a combination of Original Research Articles (8000 words; maximum 6), Commentaries (3000 words; maximum 4) and one Editorial (3000 words). All Special Theme content will be waived Article Processing Charges. All submissions will go through the Journal’s standard peer review process.

Past special themes for the journal have included: Knowledge Production, Algorithms in Culture, Data Associations in Global Law and Policy, The Cloud, the Crowd, and the City, Veillance and Transparency, Environmental Data, Spatial Big Data, Critical Data Studies, Social Media & Society, Assumptions of Sociality, Health Data Ecosystems and Data & Agency. See to access these special themes.

Format of Special Theme Proposals
Researchers interested in proposing a Special Theme should submit an outline with the following information.

- An overview of the proposed theme, how it relates to existing research and the aims and scope of the Journal, and the ways it seeks to expand critical scholarly research on Big Data.

- A list of titles, abstracts, authors and brief biographies. For each, the type of submission (ORA, Commentary) should also be indicated. If the proposal is the result of a workshop or conference that should also be indicated.

- Short Bios of the Guest Editors including affiliations and previous work in the field of Big Data studies. Links to homepages, Google Scholar profiles or CVs are welcome, although we don’t require CV submissions.

- A proposed timing for submission to Manuscript Central. This should be in line with the timeline outlined below.

Information on the types of submissions published by the Journal and other guidelines is available at

Timeline for Proposals
Please submit proposals by September 1, 2019 to the Managing Editor of the Journal, Prof. Matthew Zook at The Editorial Team of BD&S will review proposals and make a decision by November 2019. Manuscripts would be submitted to the journal (via manuscript central) by or before March 2020. For further information or discuss potential themes please contact Matthew Zook at

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Video abstract: Experiments with a data-public

Anders Koed Madsen and Anders Kristian Munk discuss their paper "Experiments with a data-public: Moving digital methods into critical proximity with political practice" in Big Data & Society 6(1), First Published February 15, 2019.

Video Abstract

Text Abstract
Making publics visible through digital traces has recently generated interest by practitioners of public engagement and scholars within the field of digital methods. This paper presents an experiment in moving such methods into critical proximity with political practice and discusses how digital visualizations of topical debates become appropriated by actors and hardwired into existing ecologies of publics and politics. Through an experiment in rendering a specific data-public visible, it shows how the interplay between diverse conceptions of the public as well as the specific platforms and data invoked, resulted in a situated affordance-space that allowed specific renderings take shape, while disadvantaging others. Furthermore, it argues that several accepted tropes in the literatures of digital methods ended up being problematic guidelines in this space. Among these is the prescription to shown heterogeneity by pushing back at established media logics.

Keywords: Digital methods, public engagement, pragmatism, controversy-mapping, critical proximity, multiplicity

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Video Abstract: Big data and quality data for fake news and misinformation detection

Fatemeh Torabi Asr and Maite Taboada
Big Data & Society 6(1), First published May 23, 2019.

Fake news is a problem. It is a big data problem. We are trying to solve it with small amounts of data. Those are, in a nutshell, the three main points of our paper. We review available datasets and introduce the MisInfoText repository as a contribution of our lab to the community. We make available the full text of the news articles, together with veracity labels previously assigned based on manual assessment of the articles’ truth content by fact-checkers. We also perform a topic modeling experiment to elaborate on the gaps and sources of imbalance in currently available datasets to guide future efforts. We appeal to the community to collect more data and to make it available for research purposes.

Video Abstract

This video was taken during Innovations in Research, an event at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, as part of the Community Summit “Confronting the Disinformation Age”.

Credit: Simon Fraser University.

Keywords: Fake news, misinformation, labelled datasets, text classification, machine learning, topic modelling

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Are we outsourcing the curation of history to Facebook?

Carl J Öhman, David Watson

Online death has recently become a hot topic both in academia and the popular press. However, much of the current debate around the phenomenon has focused on its significance for individual users. For example, most discussions in media pertain to planning one’s own digital estate and/or how best to cope with the digital remains of a loved one. (This has been reaffirmed by the innumerable interview questions we have received on these topics since the recent publication of our article.) In view of this, we wanted to bring in a more societal perspective and ask what people dying on the internet means for us on a collective level. We also wanted to highlight the fact that death on social media is not just a Western, high-tech phenomenon. The so-called “digital afterlife” is often associated with futuristic scenarios and AI, but the reality is that people all around the world pass away every day, leaving behind enormous volumes of data. Many of them are using no more sophisticated technologies than smart phones and social media apps.

From this background, we collected data from the UN and Facebook’s audience insights feature, from which we built a model that projects the future accumulation of profiles belonging to deceased Facebook users. Our analysis suggests that a minimum of 1.4 billion users will pass away between now and 2100 if Facebook ceases to attract new users as of 2018. If the network continues expanding at current rates, however, this number will exceed 4.9 billion. In both cases, a majority of the profiles will belong to non-Western users. In the former scenario, we find that the dead may outnumber the living on the network as soon as 2070.

In discussing our findings, we draw on the emerging scholarship on digital preservation and stress the challenges arising from curating the profiles of the deceased. We argue that an exclusively commercial approach to data preservation poses important ethical and political risks that demand urgent consideration. We want to be careful to state that our paper is not a critique of Facebook’s current policies on this matter. In fact, we would argue they’re actually doing a pretty good job, all things considered. We doubt that user death was high on Mark Zuckerberg’s list of priorities when he created the network, yet Facebook has devoted considerable resources to handling these sensitive matters in recent years. Hence, we would like to direct attention not so much to Facebook itself, but to the question of how we as a society, as a civilization, should go about dealing with the fact that Facebook will host billions of records of deceased users. Eventually these profiles will lose their commercial value – then what? Can we expect Facebook to keep hosting the data? Will it simply be deleted? Sold off? We need to build the proper institutions and infrastructure to tackle these questions now, because in only a few decades, these challenges will already be at our doorstep.

In particular, we wish to draw attention to the political aspect of our work. In George Orwell’s 1984, the past is controlled exclusively by the Party. They own all historical records and are not above modifying them to serve their own interests. The Party can do this because they have a monopoly on historical data. Although extreme, this scenario illustrates the risks involved in concentrating power over the past among a limited set of actors. And to some extent, that is exactly what we do today … only in our case, it is not a state or a party that controls that data, but a small number of tech empires. In pre-digital society, data about significant historical events and persons have generally been distributed across numerous institutions (national archives, museums, etc). Now, as political and social movements are largely mediated by online platforms, the narrative is increasingly owned by just a handful of firms. Today’s Martin Luther Kings, Winston Churchills, and Napoleons all probably use social media. Their lives and deeds are recorded in timeline posts and tweets. As researchers, we don’t want to be alarmist about this, but we do argue that there is good reason to be cautious about how we proceed. What kind of digital society do we want to build?

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Data Politics: The Birth of Sensory Power

by Engin Isin and Evelyn Ruppert

Didier Bigo, Engin Isin, and Evelyn Ruppert recently published an edited collection, Data Politics: Worlds, Subjects, Rights (2019, Routledge). Building on a commentary first published in Big Data & Society, the book explores how data has acquired the capacity to reconfigure relations between states, subjects, and citizens. Fourteen chapters consider how data and politics are now inseparable as data is not only shaping social relations, preferences and life chances but our very democracies. Concerned with the things (infrastructures of servers, devices and cables) and language (code, programming, and algorithms) that make up cyberspace, the book argues that understanding the conditions of possibility of data is necessary in order to intervene in and shape data politics.

We concluded our chapter entitled ‘Data’s empire: postcolonial data politics’ with the suggestion that Michel Foucault’s trilogy ‒ sovereign, disciplinary, and regulatory ‒ regimes of power is now joined by a fourth regime in the history of the present. We note that Foucault did not understand these regimes of power as supplanting but augmenting each other. That’s why he designated rather broad and shifting historical periods to identify their origins or birth: sovereign power roughly in the 16th and 18th centuries, disciplinary power in the 17th to 18th centuries, and regulatory (or biopower) in the 19th century.

The birth of regulatory power is of greatest interest to us as it relates to the development of knowledge about the species-body through the statistical sciences. Ian Hacking more precisely identified the 1820s and 1840s as the period when the idea of population was invented and statistical sciences were born as a regime of knowledge-power that regulated the relationship between the species-body (population) and individual body. Foucault broadly called this ‘biopolitics’ and inspired an important body of thought and work. His influence on the specific development of the history of statistics has been crucial and we have learned much from a pioneering body of subsequent scholarship.

Our starting point for the volume and the chapter is the need to place recent developments in data politics in relation to Foucault’s trilogy of regimes of knowledge-power. Gilles Deleuze already gestured toward this in his much-discussed ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ (1990) but it remained a suggestive if not early proposition.

We argue that to develop that proposition requires understanding the emergence of new data gathering, mining and analytic technologies. From web platforms, mobile phones, sensors, drones, satellites and wearables to devices that make up the Internet of Things, digital technologies and the data they generate are connected to the emergence of new regimes of knowledge-power especially during the last forty years. We provide a preliminary version of this proposition and conclude that perhaps the period between the 1980s and 2020s constitutes the birth of a new knowledge-power regime. We state that although we are confident about our claim, we are yet unable to name this regime.

With work we have done since writing the chapter we are now tempted to name the new knowledge-power regime as the birth of sensory power>. The reasons for this are given in the chapter. We know this is an ambitious claim that will require further work on our part. But we hope it will also inspire readers to respond to both the chapter and our subsequent proposition that sensory power is a fourth regime in the history of the present.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Video Abstract: Weaving seams with data: Conceptualizing City APIs as elements of infrastructures

Weaving seams with data: Conceptualizing City APIs as elements of infrastructures by Christoph Raetzsch, Gabriel Pereira, Lasse S Vestergaard, and Martin Brynskov

Listen to the authors of this new article discussing how application programming interfaces (APIs) are weaving new seams of data into the urban fabric, and why they are important as elements of infrastructures.

Video Abstract

Text Abstract: This article addresses the role of application programming interfaces (APIs) for integrating data sources in the context of smart cities and communities. On top of the built infrastructures in cities, application programming interfaces allow to weave new kinds of seams from static and dynamic data sources into the urban fabric. Contributing to debates about “urban informatics” and the governance of urban information infrastructures, this article provides a technically informed and critically grounded approach to evaluating APIs as crucial but often overlooked elements within these infrastructures. The conceptualization of what we term City APIs is informed by three perspectives: In the first part, we review established criticisms of proprietary social media APIs and their crucial function in current web architectures. In the second part, we discuss how the design process of APIs defines conventions of data exchanges that also reflect negotiations between API producers and API consumers about affordances and mental models of the underlying computer systems involved. In the third part, we present recent urban data innovation initiatives, especially CitySDK and OrganiCity, to underline the centrality of API design and governance for new kinds of civic and commercial services developed within and for cities. By bridging the fields of criticism, design, and implementation, we argue that City APIs as elements of infrastructures reveal how urban renewal processes become crucial sites of socio-political contestation between data science, technological development, urban management, and civic participation.