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The Things We Do For Data: Social Science Between Collusion and Going Rogue

Due to the pandemic COVID19 situation, the conference had to be postponed. The new date is March 18-19, 2021.


Call for Participation


Berlin, Germany, March 18-19, 2021

Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society
Hardenbergstraße 32
10623 Berlin

The scholarly community is challenged in trying to study human behavior on private, corporate-owned platforms. Even prior to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has been on the defensive about privacy and its data policies. Since the scandal, Facebook and Twitter have changed their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and created more restrictions on the quantity and kinds of data researchers can access. Many other social media sites either do not provide APIs or their terms of service specifically limit or prohibit the collection and use of their data even for research purposes.


Despite these restrictions, researchers do still collect data, sometimes following the terms of service and sometimes not. Some scholars have entered into exclusive partnerships with platforms, e.g. via the Social Science One partnership. Others tackle the challenge of data collection by developing API-based tools, which may or may not survive the challenges of formal platform accreditation. Still others have written code and devised strategies for scraping content from websites and social media platforms or web crawling their servers. The data collected through all of these methods may be incomplete, raising enduring challenges to validity and reliability of data and measures that inform theories.


The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society in Berlin and the Center for Computational and Data Science (CCDS) at Syracuse University aim to foster candid conversations about these challenges and their implications for research, and ultimately, for society at large. We feel it’s time for the scholarly, interdisciplinary community to come together to discuss the different approaches scholars take to studying human behavior online via corporate, private, and for-profit platforms. Through that discussion, we aim to surface the range of methodological challenges that arise with these techniques and how scholars navigate them. Especially critically, we aim to contemplate the ethical and legal challenges scholars must confront in engaging in the strategies for research that we deploy. Out of the two days, we hope for a greater understanding of the methods and challenges that present scholars; greater sensitivities to the ethical issues of our approaches; and better awareness of the legal challenges scholars face. Equally importantly, we aim to surface the larger empirical and ontological challenges with our approaches as we endeavor to understand and explain human behavior in our mediatized daily lives.


We seek submissions for proposals of 500-word abstracts. We expect these to be somewhat non-traditional, with an emphasis on your methods and objectives rather than on the findings per se. Thus, abstracts should focus on data collection methods and challenges in collecting, storing, or updating, data quality management issues, and the critical, legal, ethical and/or policy perspectives on your approach.


Send abstracts to team@thingswedofordata2020.de


Important dates

Deadline for submissions: January 15, 2020

Notification of acceptance: (around) April 1, 2020

Conference: Thursday, July 30 and Friday, July 31, 2020


About the Organizers

Jeff Hemsley is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University where he is co-director of the Center for Computational and Data Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Washington’s Information School. His research is about understanding information diffusion, particularly in the context of politics, in social media. He is co-author of the book Going Viral (Polity Press, 2013 and winner of ASIS&T Best Science Books of 2014 Information award and selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2014), which explains what virality is, how it works technologically and socially, and draws out the implications of this process for social change.

Ulrike Klinger is an Assistant Professor for Digital Communication at Freie Universität Berlin and head of the research group “News, Campaigns and the Rationality of Public Discourse” at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society in Berlin. After her dissertation, which won the best dissertation award by the German Political Science Association 2012, she joined the IKMZ Department of Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich. Research visits at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the HIIG Humboldt Internet Institute in Berlin and Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen followed. Her research focuses on political communication, social media, and transformations of the public sphere.

Jenny Stromer-Galley is a Professor in the School of Information Studies and Director of the Center for Computational and Data Science (CCDS). She is a Past President of the Association of Internet Researchers. She has been studying "social media" since before it was called social media, studying online interaction and strategic communication in a variety of contexts, including political forums and online games. She has published over 50 journal articles, proceedings, and book chapters. Her award-winning book, Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age (Oxford University Press), provides a history of presidential campaigns as they have adopted and adapted to digital communication technologies. She has received over $11 million in federal funding to support research to study and develop techniques to improve human decision-making using design-science and data science principles. 



The Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society - The German Internet Institute is a joint project of seven universities and research institutions in Berlin and Brandenburg, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Its objective is to better understand the dynamics, mechanisms and implications of digitalisation. To this end, the Weizenbaum Institute investigates the ethical, legal, economic and political aspects of digital change. The Institute takes its name from the German-American computer science pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum (1923 – 2008), who critically examined the relationship between human beings and machines. His call for a responsible use of technology is emblematic of the work of the Weizenbaum Institute: studying and shaping the internet and digitalisation for the good of society.



The Center for Computational and Data Science (CCDS) is committed to advancing important and practical research in the social sciences, using advanced computational and data intensive approaches. Housed in Syracuse University’s iSchool, the Center builds on the historic strengths of the School of Information Studies’ Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and growing emphasis on data science. CCDS researchers work to advance the science of data collection, retrieval, curation, analysis, and archiving and apply those techniques to important social problems.


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