The (Social) Media Observatory is creating a knowledge base, competency cluster, and data hub for the systematic observation of media-based publics, to support other projects within and beyond the FGZ.
This project, which is part of the Forschungsinstituts gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt
(FGZ, Research Institute Social Cohesion), aims to establish a "(Social) Media Observatory" (SMO). As a central organisational unit, the SMO will fulfill five essential tasks within the FGZ:
- the design and implementation of a technical infrastructure consisting of cloud-based virtual servers, a comprehensive database of social actors and organisations as well as specially developed open source scripts and freely accessible software packages, which will be used throughout the project period for a) continuous and actor-related and b) occasion- and case-related systematic observation of the media-based public (INFRA);
- the development and maintenance of a German-language "handbook" in the form of a wiki that refers to existing data sets, tools, software packages or similar in the field of "(social) media observation" (DOKU);
- the development of a training programme with regular biannual workshops for the collection and analysis of social media data (WORK);
- the establishment of a contact and advice centre, which supports the consortium partners in the pre-processing, analysis and evaluation of (social) media data in relation to projects as required, for example by means of consultation hours scheduled and project-based on demand (BERA);
- the cooperation with external institutional partners (GESIS, Social Science One) to ensure the secure, reliable, and long-term archiving of the (social) media data obtained within the consortium and thus to develop their potential for further use (ARCH).
Thus, the project does not pursue its own content-related question, but has the task of providing data, tools and competences to all interested projects of the FGZ in order to independently work on questions related to media-based publicity.
The project is based on the basic assumption that practices, discourses and conflicts relevant to social cohesion are (also) reflected or articulated in mediated communication, both in journalistic offerings and in the new public spheres of social media. The analysis of corresponding texts, debates and activities of social groups within and with the media promises - especially in combination with other quantitative and qualitative survey methods (survey, interview, experiment) - valuable findings, for example on the fragmentation and loss of solidarity or the representation of the diversity of actors and interests from which the FGZ will benefit.
Therefore, the SMO will primarily develop tools and collect data in which, on the one hand, publicly negotiated topics and discourses (i.e. forms of collectively effective narration) and, on the other hand, social networks of relationships and practices are articulated - particularly via metadata of the activity and networking of actors. However, these can only be situated in the research cluster in connection with specific research interests of other projects.
The project will cooperate specifically with the FGZ-wide data centre (FGZ-Bremen). It will provide data and tools that can be used by all projects. Several other locations have already expressed interest in using the SMO's infrastructure as well as the planned training programmes.
Methods, Empirical Approach, Procedure
The SMO operates and develops a combination of tools, such as server templates that can be activated as needed; scripts and software packages for data collection, cleansing and analysis; and databases that summarise and enrich the results with additional metadata.
We plan the systematic, continuous and actor-related as well as occasion- and case-related observation of media-based public. This includes relevant social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, as well as Wikipedia. For this purpose, we mainly use open source packages for Python and R, which allow the use of the platform's own data interfaces (APIs) or capture content via web scraping. In addition, journalistic media services are also included, which can be accessed via press databases such as News API, mediacloud.org, LexisNexis, Factiva or COSMAS.
We will track communication activities of "public spokespersons" (i.e. established and new journalistic media, parties and individual politicians, companies, associations and civil society organisations etc.) as well as on controversial topics (migration, climate change, energy system transformation) in the social media on a regular basis in order to ensure a continuous monitoring. Observations on an occasional and case-by-case basis should be possible insofar as specific topics or groups of actors are also monitored "on demand" and for a limited period of time.