Mapping Controversies with Social Media: The Case for Symmetry
37 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2015
Date Written: February 20, 2015
This paper discusses the implementation of methods of controversy analysis in social media research, and proposes that if project is to be successful, we need to address the tension between social media as a resource for social inquiry and as an empirical object in its own right (Thielmann, 2012; see also Hilgartner, 2000). Controversy analysis is an approach developed in Social Studies of Science and Technology (STS) and related fields for examining disputes about science, technology and society (Latour, 1987; Nelkin 1971), and it has also been implemented digitally in order to study public debates and issues dynamics (Rogers & Marres, 2000, Venturini 2010). A key feature of controversy analysis as a digital social method, we argue, is that it enables a symmetrical approach to the study of media-technological dynamics and substantive dynamics of issue formastion. It allows us to pay attention to the ways in which a digital platform like Twitter mediates public issues, but also to how controversies mediate “social media”, as an object of public attention and infrastructure that participates in the organisation of issue engagement. To showcase this symmetrical approach, the paper will present a pilot study in Twitter analysis, in which we mapped issues of ‘privacy’ and ‘surveillance’ after the Snowden affair broke in the summer of 2013. We argue in favor of maintaining the instability of medium and controversy, but suggest that the digital implementation of controversy analysis requires further elaboration and productive dialogue between researchers of social media practices and researchers of public controversy.
Keywords: Social Media, STS, Controversy Analysis, Edward Snowden, Digital Sociology, Twitter,
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