Sifting the Sand on the River Bank: Social Media as a Source for Research Data

P. Takis Metaxas
Eni Mustafaraj


Computational social science has been described as a new field at the intersection of computer science and social sciences, aiming to study the ways that society evolves, interacts, and reacts. Like prospectors sifting the sand in a river bed for gold, computational social science researchers are looking into the streams of social media for insight on our social interactions. Enabled by the availability of and easy accessibility to vast amounts of data generated by social entities, as well as by powerful computing hardware and algorithms, its researchers conduct observations of social interaction and experiments testing social theories in scales not realizable before. In this paper, after a short review of the characteristics of this new area, we discuss issues related to the types of data sought and used, and some of the challenges in collecting and interpreting the data. Throughout the paper we also examine some of the pitfalls awaiting and the standards that need to be observed.