Workshop: Theory Construction: Building and Advancing Theories for Empirical Social Science (September 14, 2023)

We are excited to announce our upcoming workshop, “Theory Construction: Building and Advancing Theories for Empirical Social Science,” which will take place on Thursday, September 14 in the Kassenhalle (main hall), WI. Led by Adrian Meier (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg) and created in collaboration with Dr. Daniel Possler (JMU Würzburg), this intensive “crash course” will equip participants with practical strategies for constructing and advancing social scientific theories. Beginning with an exploration of fundamental concepts, structure, and quality criteria of social scientific theories, Adrian will delve into hands-on techniques for building and advancing theory. The workshop will focus on the theory-building process as well as the micro-level of social analysis, offering examples from media psychology and communication science.

You can find more about the workshop on our program page. See you there!

Workshop Recap: From Civic Tech to Science – Reimagining Science-Society Relations (July 6, 2023)

On July 6, participants gathered in the Flexraum at the Weizenbaum Institute for the workshop “From Civic Tech to Science: Reimagining Science-Society Relations,” led by Nicolas Zehner. Civic tech encompasses a diverse array of empowering technologies that enable democratic participation by allowing citizens to engage with societal issues and contribute to positive change. What insights can science gain from civic tech initiatives? How can they contribute to inclusive knowledge creation? And how can the design of these initiatives help rethink science-society relations? Those were some of the key questions that guided this workshop.

The workshop involved three introductory position statements, each shedding light on different aspects of civic tech’s impact. The position statement on “The Journalism of Things,” exemplified by projects like “Radmesser” and “Bienenlive,” demonstrated how civic tech can impact citizen behavior, raise topic visibility, and foster transdisciplinary knowledge. Dr. Beatrice Jetto’s position statement, “Blockchain-based Civic Tech Ecosystem: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice Objectives”, highlighted the potential of blockchain-based civic tech in making citizen participation in urban development more inclusive and transparent. Furthermore, Nicolas Zehner’s statement position, “AI, Environmental Protection, and the Promise of Participation”, discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can serve as a platform for reimagining science-society relations and a gateway to thinking about more global issues by reintroducing the concept of “awareness of uncertainty” as a form of knowledge.

Following the position statements, the workshop engaged participants in group work sessions, facilitating discussions on knowledge transfer beyond conventional science communication. Collaboratively, they explored ways to create infrastructures that foster collaboration and include data subjects, avoiding the reproduction of existing power structures and ensuring equitable civic tech initiatives.

Some results of the group work

Workshop Recap: DSA – Data Access for Research (June 21, 2023)

Data is an invaluable asset for scientific research. However, accessing platform data for academic purposes has become increasingly challenging, particularly with the closure of free access to APIs like Twitter’s. Recognizing the significance of data accessibility for research, the Weizenbaum Institute organized a workshop in collaboration with the European New School of Digital Studies (ENS) titled “Datenzugang für die Forschung – Der Digital Services Act (DSA)” This workshop, held on June 21 at the ChangeHub, aimed to explore the potential of the upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA) in facilitating data access for academic research.

The DSA is set to bring about improvements in data access for researchers under Article 40. However, the DSA’s regulations must be thoughtfully implemented at the national level to achieve these goals fully. With the closure of free access to Twitter’s API, there is an urgency to find robust solutions to enable researchers to access platform data for scientific inquiry. The DSA, expected to come into force in February 2024, holds promises to provide avenues for researchers to obtain the data they need for their academic research. Still, it also brings about its own set of challenges.

The workshop aimed to foster an open forum where researchers from diverse disciplines, particularly those who work or plan to work with platform data, could come together to provide recommendations for the effective implementation of the DSA. Organized by Ulrike Klinger (ENS) and Jakob Ohme (WI) and supported by the Stiftung Mercator, the workshop addressed crucial questions surrounding data access requests, eligible data, and the verification process by authorities and platforms.

The workshop started with a welcoming address from Ulrike Klinger. Jakob Ohme then provided an overview of the DSA’s Article 40, shedding light on its potential implications for researchers. This was followed by presentations on the DSA’s implementation in Germany by Gökhan Cetintas from the Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr and Andrea Sanders-Winter from the Bundesnetzagentur, who offered insights into the data access rules under the DSA.

After a coffee break, Jessica Gabriele Walter from Aarhus University presented on DSA40 and scholarly networks in other EU countries, providing a broader perspective on data access challenges and solutions. Richard Kuchta from Democracy Reporting International later delved into “The Data Access Problem” and emphasized the necessity of a vetting process to ensure data security and accuracy.

The latter part of the workshop involved group work in which participants engaged in the discussion and expansion of a policy paper draft prepared by the Weizenbaum Institute and ENS, based on inputs from an early expert round. The goal was to develop actionable recommendations that would benefit the research community in Germany and the EU. Breakout sessions centered on topics like “Vetting Access,” “Access Modes,” and “Infrastructure,” allowing participants to delve deeper into specific aspects of data access.

The workshop brought together an interdisciplinary group of researchers with a shared vision: enabling access to platform data for academic purposes. By combining their expertise and perspectives, participants crafted recommendations for the effective implementation of the DSA, ensuring that data access for research remains equitable and secure. As the DSA comes into force and takes shape, the outcomes of this workshop are expected to serve as a significant step forward in fostering inclusive dialogue on the future of data accessibility.

Further Information
\ Thursday Lunch Talk Series: Article 40 of the DSA (April 20, 2023)
\ Response to the Call for Evidence DG CNECT-CNECT F2 by the European Commission
\ Interview with Jakob Ohme “Researchers Fight for Data Access under the DSA”

Launch of the Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer

We are very excited to announce the launch of the Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer, an interactive website developed by Methods Lab member Roland Toth. The Data Explorer allows you to browse and analyze survey results from the annual survey conducted by the Weizenbaum Panel on media use, political participation, civic norms, and more. In the spirit of open science, it not only presents research data, but also in an easy-to-use manner.

The Weizenbaum Panel aims to shed light on the complex relationship between the digital realm and political engagement. By examining phenomena such as hate speech and fake news, as well as the active commitment to a democratic culture of debate, the telephone survey offers invaluable insights into the ever-evolving dynamics of citizen participation in Germany.

With the launch of Data Explorer, you can explore this comprehensive dataset and gain a deeper understanding of Germany’s social and political landscape. The platform offers six categories: social media platform use, political attitudes, civic norms, political participation, and online civic intervention. Each category presents a unique perspective, allowing you to examine specific aspects of Germany’s social and political fabric.

The Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer interface

To begin your exploration, simply select a category that piques your interest. Within each category, you will find a selection of questions to delve into. Whether you want to gauge the political news media consumption of the German public, analyze trends in the use of video platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, or find out how often people discuss political issues at work, or with friends and family, the Data Explorer will assist you in this endeavor.

For a nuanced understanding of how different groups within the population engage in social and political activities, you can group the data output by selecting the demographic factors gender, age, level of education, or residence. Moreover, to enhance your experience and facilitate data sharing, you can download any graph in .png format. Each graph includes the question, answering options, and grouping, providing a comprehensive visual representation of the desired data.

A graph downloaded in .png format

The Weizenbaum Data Explorer was developed in Python/Jupyterhub and deployed using Voilà, which are all open-source. It is hosted on Weizenbaum Institute servers, which ensures adequate data protection. This is not the case for typical solutions such as using R Shiny and the deployment platform The Data Explorer will be expanded continuously – for example, the fourth wave of the Weizenbaum Panel will be integrated soon.

Whether you’re a researcher, journalist, student, or simply someone curious about Germany’s social and political landscape, the Weizenbaum Panel Data Explorer equips you with the tools to visualize data effortlessly. Happy exploring!

Thursday Lunch Talk Series: Article 40 of the DSA (April 20, 2023)

Researchers in the EU are about to have a new legislative framework to access and study data held by platforms and search engines in the form of Article 40 of the Digital Services Act (DSA) – a major milestone in platform regulation history expected to have spillover effects worldwide. As part of the Thursday Lunch Talk Series, Jakob Ohme (WI) and the Methods Lab jointly organized a talk to gain more insight into what this Article 40 means in the context of German law, and the consequences it might have on researchers’ access to platform data. Tupperware and brown paper bags in hand, hungry participants gathered in the Flexraum to listen to Jakob give the ABCs of the EU’s new data access regime and discuss some of its opportunities, limitations, and grey areas.

Here is a quick summary of Article 40:

  1. Providers of very large online platforms (VLOPs) or search engines (VLOSEs) shall provide access to data necessary for monitoring and assessing compliance with the DSA, at their reasoned request and within a reasonable period specified in that request, access to data necessary to monitor and assess compliance with this regulation.
  2. Data accessed can only be used for monitoring and assessing compliance while taking into account the rights and interests of the platform providers, service recipients, personal data protection, and the security of their services.
  3. Platforms must explain the design, logic, functioning, and testing of their algorithmic systems, including recommender systems, upon request.
  4. Vetted researchers can request access to data to conduct research on “systemic risks” in the EU and assess risk mitigation measures.
  5. Within 15 days, platforms can request to amend a data access request as referred to in §4 if:
    (a) they do not have access to the data
    (b) giving access to the data will lead to significant vulnerabilities in the security of their service or the protection of confidential information, particularly trade secrets.
  6. Requests for amendment pursuant to §5 should propose alternative means for providing access to appropriate and sufficient data.
  7. Platform providers or search engines shall facilitate and provide access to data pursuant to §1 and §4 through appropriate interfaces specified in the request, including online databases or application programming interfaces.
  8. Researchers can be granted the status of “vetted researchers” if they meet specific conditions, including affiliation with a research organization, independence from commercial interests, disclosure of research funding, capability to fulfill data security requirements, and commitment to making research results publicly available.
  9. Researchers can submit applications to the DSC of the Member State they are affiliated with, who conducts an initial assessment before forwarding the application to the DSC of Establishment for a final decision.
  10. The DSC can terminate data access for vetted researchers if they no longer meet the conditions. The coordinator must inform the platform provider and allow the researcher to respond before terminating access.
  11. DSCs must inform the Board about vetted researchers and their research purposes. If access to data is terminated, they must also inform the Board.
  12. Platforms must provide timely access to publicly accessible data, including real-time data, to researchers who meet the conditions and use it for research on systemic risks.
  13. With input from the Board, the Commission will adopt delegated acts to specify technical conditions for data sharing, including with researchers, while considering the rights and interests of platforms and service recipients, protection of confidential information, and maintaining service security.

Both presenter and the audience highlighted several aspects regarding the infrastructure and implications of the article, which made for a vibrant, fruitful discussion. One question focused on the effort platforms would need to make in order to prevent researchers from acquiring data (§5). Though making a projections at this point in time is challenging due to the remaining unknowns, lawyers predict that platforms will try to prevent researchers’ access to data more for certain areas than others. One such area could be questions pertaining to algorithms, which would fall under the so-called “trade-secret exemption.” Another topic of discussion was the “systemic risk research” requirement (§4). More specifically, what do we mean when we speak of systemic risks? As a term that can be understood very widely, it would be possible, hypothetically speaking, to file a request as long as one can argue for a broader understanding of it.

Some details regarding the data vetting process and its implementation remain unclear, such as the establishment of an independent advisory mechanism and the technical conditions under which it would operate. Most of the largest platforms and search engines are based in Ireland, so the DSC of Establishment tasked with vetting researchers will likely be the Irish DSC in many cases. Researchers can also send their applications to their country’s national digital services coordinator. In terms of regulatory oversight in Germany, it is anticipated that the Bundesnetzagentur will play a significant role as the DSC regulator. The future German DSC will be able to provide an opinion about whether to grant a data access request, but the final decision will remain in the hands of the Irish DSC.

DSCs are yet to be appointed by EU member states, and complex vetting may require an independent advisory body responsible for this task. However, the establishment of an independent advisory mechanism comes with its own set of challenges. How much power will the board have? And how will the board make its decisions? During the talk, the difficulty of dealing with and assessing raw data when one does not know what to look for was identified as another potential issue. An alternative model could involve access to publicly accessible data without vetting. This approach would be similar to what the Twitter API has provided in the past, and it may prove to be an exciting option for fueling research, primarily if implemented in real-time and through application programming interfaces.

This edition of the Thursday Lunch Talk Series shed light on several key aspects of Article 40, emphasizing the opportunities and challenges it could create for researchers’ access to platform data in the future. While some details, such as the data vetting process, remain uncertain, the presentation sparked valuable discussions, highlighting the complexities and considerations involved in what lies ahead for platform providers, researchers, and lawmakers in navigating our digital landscape.

Food for thought!

Further Information
\ Response to the Call for Evidence DG CNECT-CNECT F2 by the European Commission
\ Interview with Jakob Ohme “Researchers Fight for Data Access under the DSA”

Research stay at Universidad de Navarra (Pamplona, Spain)

From April 17-23, Methods Lab Data Scientist Roland Toth spent a week at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) at Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. This flash visiting researcher stay was financed and took place in the context of their project Youth in Transition in which they have collected data every year for four years in a representative sample of the Spanish population. These data include various information on smartphone use, smartphone pervasiveness, and psychological traits.

View of the university campus from the north

Together with the researchers Aurelio Fernández, Javier García-Manglano, and Pedro de la Rosa, Roland wrote a first draft of a research article using these data. As mobile media use is typically measured using indicators of use quantity (duration and frequency) alone, the paper deals with the question whether qualitative dimensions of mobile media use should be involved in its measurement, too. Specifically, the researchers are investigating the role of gratification variety (e.g., for information, social contact, or escapism) and situation variety (e.g., while in a meeting, while watching a movie, or while eating). Both represent defining characteristics of mobile media devices like the smartphone, as we typically use them for various purposes, anytime, and anywhere. For conceptual validation, the researchers examine whether these two qualitative dimensions contribute substantially to predicting the concept of mobile vigilance – the constant salience of mobile media devices and an urge to monitor and remain reactive to them. As such vigilance is tied to mobile media use per definition and emerged in close alignment to its development, it is bound to be associated with smartphone use. In other words: If gratification and situation of smartphone use can explain a share of mobile vigilance that remains unexplained by the quantity of smartphone use, this indicates that both dimensions are substantial to the measurement of mobile media use. The researchers are currently finalizing the article.

Inside the Facultad de Comunicación

Inviting Roland for this stay was a generous gesture of ICS and the researchers and the institute were very welcoming and engaged in the project during his stay. Aside from the productive cooperation, our colleague was delighted with the beautiful campus and the equally charming city of Pamplona (and Donostia-San Sebastián), where spring had actually begun already. We hope that the article can be published successfully and that the cooperation between ICS at Universidad de Navarra and the Methods Lab of the Weizenbaum Institute will continue in future projects!

Roland Toth (left) and Aurelio Fernández (right)

Book Launch: Challenges and Perspectives of Hate Speech Research

We are thrilled to announce the release of “Challenges and Perspectives of Hate Speech Research,” a collection of 26 texts on contemporary forms of hate speech by scholars from various disciplines and countries. The anthology is co-edited by Methods Lab members Christian Strippel and Martin Emmer, together with research colleagues Sünje Paasch-Colberg and Joachim Trebbe. Divided into three sections, it covers present-day political issues and developments, provides an overview of key concepts, terms, and definitions, and offers numerous methodological perspectives on the topic. Whether you are a fellow academic researcher or a concerned netizen, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the dynamic field of interdisciplinary hate speech research and the future of our evolving digital landscape.

Challenges and Perspectives of Hate Speech Research is open access!

This book is the result of a conference that could not take place. It is a collection of 26 texts that address and discuss the latest developments in international hate speech research from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives. This includes case studies from Brazil, Lebanon, Poland, Nigeria, and India, theoretical introductions to the concepts of hate speech, dangerous speech, incivility, toxicity, extreme speech, and dark participation, as well as reflections on methodological challenges such as scraping, annotation, datafication, implicity, explainability, and machine learning. As such, it provides a much-needed forum for cross-national and cross-disciplinary conversations in what is currently a very vibrant field of research.

Workshop recap: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R

Day 1, section Introduction to Markdown (Photo: Katharina Stefes)

From March 29-30, the Methods Lab organized a workshop on the use of the programming language R for working with data, led by Roland Toth. The focus was on the main principles of programming in order to understand what is happening under the hood when working with data.

Day 1 focused on the advantages of using a programming language to work with data over dedicated software such as SPSS or Stata. In the course of this, the most important principles of programming in a research context, such as functions, classes, objects, vectors, and data frames were covered. Before going into the specific tasks in the context of data analysis, the markup language Markdown in combination with R was first introduced. This allows data analyses to be not only performed, but also reported in a directly reproducible and seamlessly interrelated manner, so that entire research papers can be written using R and Markdown. The day concluded by covering the key steps and techniques in data wrangling and performing calculations of typical descriptive and inferential statistical measures, tests, and models. At the end of each section of the day, there were small tasks to be solved by the participants to apply what they had learned.

On Day 2, the data analysis section was wrapped up with a demonstration of numerous visualization methods. This was followed by a longer section in which participants were allowed to think about their own research question based on a freely available data set from the European Social Survey (ESS) and answer it in R using all the techniques they had learned. They were supported by the workshop leader, since at the beginning of working with a programming language there are often many small, unforeseen problems that can quickly lead to frustration without prior experience. Lastly, an outlook was given on what techniques and packages to familiarize oneself with once beginning to dive deeper into data analysis in R and programming in general (for example, custom functions, loops, and pipes). The workshop was concluded with a Q&A where remaining questions could be asked.

For the purpose of optimizing the training offered by the Methods Lab, a short, anonymous evaluation was conducted at the very end of the workshop. Thankfully, the participants were very satisfied with the workshop throughout and only commented that more frequent and smaller tasks might have been even better. Although this is in parts difficult to reconcile with the concept of the workshop, this feedback is appreciated and will be used to improve future offerings in this regard.

The Methods Lab would like to thank all participants for their participation and commitment and hopes that the skills learned will be of benefit to them in future research projects and other application scenarios.

Workshop: Introduction to Programming and Data Analysis with R (March 29-30, 2023)

Our second workshop, Programming and Data Analysis with R, will be held on March 29 and 30 at the Institute.

During the first day of the workshop, Roland Toth (WI) will introduce and establish the fundamentals of programming in R/R Studio, combining it with Markdown. Building of the first, the second day will be dedicated to applying this knowledge to data analysis and working on a custom research question. No previous experience is necessary.

You can find more information about the workshop on its program page.

Workshop recap: Web Scraping and API-based Data Collection

Lion Wedel gives an introduction to Web-Scraping (Photo: Roland Toth)

On March 2nd, the Methods Lab hosted its first-ever workshop titled “Web Scraping and API-based Data Collection”. The workshop explored various techniques for accessing and gathering data from platforms using APIs and web scraping. Speakers included Florian Primig (FU Berlin), Steffen Lepa (TU Berlin), Felix Gaisbauer (WI), and Leon Wendel (WI). The event received an overwhelmingly positive response, with many people attending both in person and remotely. The workshop generated plenty of discussions and concluded with a Q&A session.

We at the Methods Lab were very happy to see so many faces there. We would like to thank all our presenters and participants for contributing with their curiosity, knowledge, and presence and in helping us create such a successful first event. Looking forward to organizing more workshops in the future on emerging methodologies in the realm of digital research!