The Methods Lab is excited to welcome its first research fellow who arrived at the Weizenbaum Institute on November 20: Douglas Parry from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. His research focus lies on Socio-Informatics in the area of Communication Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Media/CyberPsychology.
During his 4-week stay, Douglas Parry will contribute to work at the Methods Lab in different ways. On November 30, he will hold the workshop A Practical Introduction to Text Analysis, where he covers all important steps, from pre-processing text to visualizing results of topic modeling in a single day. On December 7, he will host a Digital Methods Colloquium together with Roland Toth, where German researchers focusing on digital methods will get together, present recent work, and discuss challenges and opportunities in the field.
Furthermore, Douglas Parry is collaborating on two research projects with the Methods Lab during his stay, both of which involve the processing of complex data surrounding smartphone usage that were collected using multiple methods earlier this year.
The Methods Lab is happy to host Douglas Parry and is looking forward to the results of this exciting partnership – stay tuned!
On August 30th, 2023, the Methods Lab and Olga Pasitselska (U of Groningen) organized the workshop on data donation in messaging groups research. The workshop intended to tackle practical and ethical issues behind data collection, processing, and dissemination in the research of closed messaging groups. We asked four colleagues to share their experiences and struggles and provide their solutions for closed chat groups research. The invited speakers, Sérgio Barbosa (U Coimbra), Katharina Knop-Hülß (HMTMH Hannover), Connie Moon Sehat (Hacks/Hackers), and Julian Kohne (GESIS), paved the way for better conceptualization of messaging groups and application of tailor-made ethical and practical solutions. The workshop allowed for a cross-field discussion of ad-hoc developments in closed groups research and provided many insights for the audience, speakers, and organizers.
Sérgio Barbosa explained his approach of joining activist WhatsApp groups in Brazil. Sérgio suggested that informed consent cannot be assumed as a one-off solution: instead, one should go beyond the check-list of ethical guidelines and learn by doing and negotiating with the group members. When joining these types of groups, researchers should clearly state the purposes of the research and disclose their identity, and also share the outcome of the research and promote it in the local community as well. Different approaches should be taken, depending on the type of groups: for example, pro-democracy groups and extremist groups should be treated differently, independent of the group size.
Dr. Katharina Knop-Hülß shared insights about studying non-professional secondary groups (e.g., choir, sport, volunteer groups) with her highly unobtrusive and highly invasive research approach of scraping chats’ content. Since these groups were representative of intimate environments of everyday communication, they can be considered as “safe spaces”, closed from the public eye. To account for the sensitive nature of the data collection, Katharina used an opt-in approach, provided pseudonymized chat logs to the participants before they consented to participate, and complied with the requirement not to share this data with anyone beyond the research team, even after the data was pseudonymized.
Julian Kohne introduced his digital platform for WhatsApp data donation that automatically cleans and anonymizes the data, reducing researchers’ exposure to and intervention in the raw data. In his research, Julian takes a participant-centered approach: the data collection tool is designed to maximize usability and control of the data for research participants. They can pre-process the data in a way that allows them to review the chat logs and decide what exactly they want to donate, deleting undesirable pieces of data, up to the possibility of deleting time stamps and other meta-data. With that, the tool also allows researchers to track how much and what types of data was deleted.
Dr. Connie Moon Sehat presented the meta-review of closed messaging apps research that aimed to determine what are the conditions in terms of indexed invites, group size, discussion topics, or other aspects of closed groups that make them arguably public or private. Adding to the previous speakers’ examples of their research with activist/public and hobby and friends/private types of groups, the review summarized the discussed points and provided a framework for mapping chat groups according to the multiple parameters. Whether researchers scraped the groups without entering them, entered with invitation, disclosed or not their identity and research interest, depended on the nature of the groups and public interest that can justify researchers’ intervention into the closed communication spaces. Connie also stressed the possible differences in perceptions of groups’ “publicness” between users, researchers, and platforms, that also should be taken into account.
After four presentations, we continued the discussion with the online and offline audience, addressing the issues of generalizability of messaging data (what slice of the “natural” social interaction are we looking at here?), the role of language, and the differences between long- and short-term groups. We also discussed what is the role of the researcher in the automated versus manual data collection process, and how participants can benefit from data donation.
The workshop provided theoretical and practical insights for messaging groups research and outlined future directions for collaboration in creating the guidelines for ethical closed messaging research and data donation.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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