I know, I know, it’s digital blasphemy to say that using Internet data is a terrible way to study social movements. What about all of those Twitter and Facebook revolutions of the Arab Spring? And Occupy Wall Street? #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter spread like wildfire, for God’s sake.
You may think that I’m a luddite who doesn’t see the sheer statistical splendor and speed of social network diagrams or automated text analyses made from Tweets. Or, perhaps you’re thinking that old-school scholars just don’t get it: digital activism is the future, so we need to disrupt, innovate and flatten those hierarchical Marxist social movement sociologists.
But before you reach through your screen and strangle me with your iPhone charger cord, consider these ways in which online data, whether social media or otherwise, might not be as representative or generalizable as they are fast and efficient.
1. Hashtag data are often cherrypicked
2. Big Data is too Small
3. Privileging the online often ignores the offline
4. So much data, too little qualitative methods
5. Online data can ignore societal structures
To read the full blog post and my full analysis, check out the entire post in Mobilizing Ideas, a social movement studies blog, which is part of The Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame, editorial home of the academic journal Mobilization.