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College of Information and Communications

  • Award winners: (l to r) Stan Trembach, Liya Deng, Zack Frazier, Dr. Amir Karami, and Hassan Zamir

    ASIS&T Members

    (l to r) Stan Trembach, Liya Deng, Zack Frazier, Dr. Amir Karami, and Hassan Zamir

Unlocking social media's big data

Posted October 22, 2015
By Rebekah Friedman

Social media has become an integral means of communication for users across the globe, but how can this collective online behavior be translated into usable data? Could it be used to anticipate how a political movement will evolve, or even to predict the outcome of an election? The Association of Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) Carolinas Chapter explored this question recently in a dual onsite and virtual workshop, "Social Media Analysis and Its Application in Research and Practice."

The event, the first of its kind hosted by the School of Library and Information Science ASIS&T members, was held October 19 at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Guest speakers were Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd of Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, who appeared via Skype, and UofSC's own Dr. Amir Karami.

The workshop drew faculty, doctoral students, librarians and independent researchers from South Carolina, North Carolina and Toronto. Nearly two dozen attended in-person, and another 12 participated online.

SLIS doctoral students Liya Deng and Stan Trembach organized the workshop, with support from program director Dr. Sam Hastings and Carolinas ASIS&T Chapter Executive Chair Dr. Deborah Swain. Deng and Trembach believe the subject is important because of social media's expanding influence.

"We proposed the topic for the workshop because of the growing impact of social media on the social, political, economic, cultural and educational structures of modern society," Trembach said. 

Dr. Gruzd presented his research analyzing the use of social media during Ukraine's 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution. He studied public groups in Ukraine's most popular social network, Vkontakte, and relied on algorithms to identify clusters of users. Gruzd believes that a multi-faceted approach to analyzing user behavior could allow researchers to predict a movement's odds of success or longevity.

Dr. Karami, who joined the UofSC faculty in September, demonstrated one method of collecting user data from Twitter. While his example centered upon the 2016 U.S. presidential election, he believes the practice has implications for conducting research across multiple disciplines, particularly when the large quantity of social media users is taken into account.

"Facebook has more than 1.23 billion users and we have the similar big numbers for other social media such as Twitter," Karami said. "Based on the number of users, we find that we have access to a huge amount of data which is cheap and easy to access. This big data can be collected and analyzed to find interesting patterns which are good for both business and research."

In addition to educating information science students and professionals, Deng says she's optimistic that the event will also promote the organization within in the field.

"As a long-time member of ASIS&T, I hope that this event will not only provide a new perspective on the current issue of social media analysis, but also raise awareness of the ASIS&T organization and help increase its student membership in the Carolinas," Deng said.

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