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Six Provocations for Big Data

danah boyd

Data & Society Research Institute; Microsoft Research

Kate Crawford

Microsoft Research; MIT Center for Civic Media; NYU Information Law Institute

September 21, 2011

A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society, September 2011

The era of Big Data has begun. Computer scientists, physicists, economists, mathematicians, political scientists, bio-informaticists, sociologists, and many others are clamoring for access to the massive quantities of information produced by and about people, things, and their interactions. Diverse groups argue about the potential benefits and costs of analyzing information from Twitter, Google, Verizon, 23andMe, Facebook, Wikipedia, and every space where large groups of people leave digital traces and deposit data. Significant questions emerge. Will large-scale analysis of DNA help cure diseases? Or will it usher in a new wave of medical inequality? Will data analytics help make people’s access to information more efficient and effective? Or will it be used to track protesters in the streets of major cities? Will it transform how we study human communication and culture, or narrow the palette of research options and alter what ‘research’ means? Some or all of the above?

This essay offers six provocations that we hope can spark conversations about the issues of Big Data. Given the rise of Big Data as both a phenomenon and a methodological persuasion, we believe that it is time to start critically interrogating this phenomenon, its assumptions, and its biases.

(This paper was presented at Oxford Internet Institute’s “A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society” on September 21, 2011.)

Number of Pages in PDF File: 17

Keywords: Big Data, methodology, sociology, computer science, analysis

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Date posted: September 13, 2011 ; Last revised: October 30, 2012

Suggested Citation

boyd, danah and Crawford, Kate, Six Provocations for Big Data (September 21, 2011). A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society, September 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1926431 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1926431

Contact Information

Danah Boyd (Contact Author)
Microsoft Research ( email )
One Memorial Drive, 12th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
HOME PAGE: http://research.microsoft.com/
Data & Society Research Institute ( email )
36 West 20th Street
New York,, NY
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.datasociety.net
Kate Crawford
Microsoft Research ( email )
641 Avenue of the Americas
641 Avenue of the Americas, level 7
New York, NY NY 10011
United States
MIT Center for Civic Media ( email )
75 Amherst St
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States
NYU Information Law Institute ( email )
Wilf Hall
139 MacDougal Street
New York, NY NY 10012
United States
Feedback to SSRN

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