Why we shouldn’t take social media metrics too seriously

By Mark Carrigan

In the last year, I’ve become increasingly preoccupied by why we shouldn’t take social media metrics too seriously. In part, this preoccupation is analytical because following this thread has proven to be a useful way to move from my past focus on individual users of social media to a more expansive sociological account of platforms. The lifecycle of metrics from being a project of platform engineers, through to being a feature of platforms onto something which are meaningful and matter to users elucidates structure and agency as it pertains to platforms. As does the subsequent utilisation of these metrics, laden with meaning by users, in order to model these people and modulate the environment within which they act.

By saying we shouldn’t take metrics too seriously, I’m drawing attention to the way they are used as a mechanism to mould the behaviour of users and the risk that uncritical embrace of them leaves us being enticed by platforms in a damaging way. However beyond this concern, we shouldn’t lose sight of how easily they can be fudged and how unreliable they are. This is a concern which Jaron Lanier powerfully puts forward on pg 67 of his new book:

First, why believe the numbers? As discussed in the previous argument, much of the online world is fake. Fake readers, fake commenters, fake referrals. I note that news sites that are trying to woo advertisers directly often seem to show spectacularly greater numbers of readers for articles about products that might be advertised—like choosing your next gaming machine—than for articles about other topics. This doesn’t mean the site is fudging its numbers. Instead, a manager probably hired a consulting firm that used an algorithm to optimize the choice of metrics services to relate the kind of usage statistics the site could use to attract advertisers. In other words, the site’s owners didn’t consciously fudge, but they kinda-sorta know that their stats are part of a giant fudge cake.

It’s not so much that they are meaningless as that their meaning is often unstable. There are occasions in which it might be necessary to engage with them but we have to do this carefully. One of my projects in the next year will be to try and produce guidelines about this interpretation which reflect what we know about the sociology of platforms while nonetheless recognising that metricising our activity on social media can sometimes serve as strategic purpose.

An experimental project working towards the meta-conference

By Mark Carrigan

This post is a short overview of the live blogging project Pat Thomson and myself initiated at The Sociological Review’s Undisciplining conference last week. This was a participatory project which invited twelve conference attendees (and one participating remotely) to blog about their experiences as they made their way through this three day event. There were 43 posts from 13 live bloggers over four days. This is a pretty substantial outpouring of thought and reflection over a relatively short period of time:

  1. #Undisciplining Day Zero: Preparing From The Cat Cafe – Mark Carrigan
  2. Live From Breakfast – Pat Thomson
  3. The Hive Begins To Form at #Undisciplining – Mark Carrigan
  4. Landing – Kate Carruthers Thomas
  5. What does it mean to reflect in real time? – Mark Carrigan
  6. Trying to Say Something Clever – Michael Toze
  7. the person/al and the structural? – Pat Thomson
  8. un-mining, (under-mining?) disciplinarity – Anna Davidson
  9. I am NOT a sociologist, get me out of here! – Julia Molinari
  10. sociology of art as a powerful way to reveal the social – Janna Klostermann
  11. making a sociological board game – Pat Thomson
  12. Being alone at conferences – Mark Carrigan
  13. Structure and Undisciplining – Catherine Price
  14. Questions from the geographical edges – Rosemary Hancock
  15. The Missing Links – interdisciplinary in sociological inquiry – Donna Carmichael
  16. A sociological walk of contrasts – Julia Molinari
  17. The Future versus Bureaucracy – Michael Toze
  18. Live blogging and the cinema experience – Catherine Price
  19. Time to Write – Kate Carruthers Thomas
  20. The dreaded conference dinner – Julia Molinari
  21. When a conference has a meta-conference – Mark Carrigan
  22. Care and the conference – Michaela Benson
  23. Echoes from Beyond the Edges of #Undisciplining – Jill Jameson
  24. Conference as home – Pat Thomson
  25. Beyoncé Vs Bev Skeggs – Donna Carmichael
  26. Knowledge production outside the university at #undisciplining – Mark Carrigan
  27. Why should anyone get paid to do sociology? – Mark Carrigan
  28. The feminist walk of the city – Catherine Price
  29. Making friends and changing the world – Rosemary Hancock
  30. The Rising Emotions of Asking the Panel A Question – Julia Molinari
  31. Too Too – Pat Thomson
  32. Not Knowing Why We Do What We Do – Michael Toze
  33. Time Out – Pat Thomson
  34. Outside/In Place – Kate Carruthers Thomas
  35. Undisciplining like a moth to a flame – Janna Klostermann
  36. Re-Sounding Edges: #Undisciplining – Jill Jameson
  37. A Fireside Chat: Defending the Social – Julia Molinari
  38. How does the sociological speak to/with/from the earth? – Anna Davidson
  39. Going Live? – Katy Vigurs
  40. Art! – Janna Klostermann
  41. Beyond the conference – Michael Toze
  42. Reflections on Live Blogging – Catherine Price
  43. Ending Where I Began #Undisciplining – Mark Carrigan

To what extent does this constitute a meta-conference? It was an organised process of asynchronous dialogue with a remit as wide as the conference itself, with the choice of topics being left to live bloggers as they made their way through the conference. To the extent live bloggers were reading each other and in some cases responding to each other, either directly in a substantive way or indirectly through riffing off themes such as awkwardness or isolation, it is clear the above is more than the sum of its parts.

We’ll be discussing how to take this forward in the next few days and we hope this will be the start of a bigger project looking at how social media can be used to both change and investigate the academic conference.

Knowledge production outside the university at #undisciplining

By Mark Carrigan

I’m writing this from the Undisciplining conference, an event I’ve contributed to the organisation of as part of my role at The Sociological Review Foundation. An event is about to start organised by my CPGJ colleague and collaborator, Jana Bacevic, prepared through an initial blog post on this website.

Her session on thinking knowledge production without the university clearly relates to our work in the cluster but is taking place outside of higher education. This is a conference organised by a charitable foundation, held in an art gallery and cultural space, seeking to break with traditional forms of academic organisation. Its origin reflects the ambivalence found in seeking an outside to the university, while framing the ambition in a way so idiosyncratically marked by being on the inside. It is outside yet concerned with the inside, dependent upon it yet struggling to move beyond it.

This tension is something we have to negotiate if we are going to find practical ways to facilitate knowledge production outside of the university, beyond the existing epistemic infrastructure of commercial, governmental and third sector activity. If we don’t confront it our attempts to find spaces outside of the university risk being failed escape attempts rather than projects to construct viable spaces that constitute a real alternative to the contemporary institutionalisation of the social sciences.

A dialogue between ontology and epistemology

An announcement concerning the upcoming EARLI Conference hosted at the Faculty of Education:

You may be aware of a conference taking place here, at the Faculty of Education, on August 27th-28th 2018. This is being co-organised by two special interest groups (‘Methods in Learning Research’ [SIG17] and ‘Educational Theory’ [SIG25]) of the European Association of Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI). The theme of the conference is ‘Dialogue between ontology and epistemology: New perspectives on theory and methodology in research on learning and education’.

The response to this conference has been extremely positive, with 84 papers or workshops being accepted after peer-review. The two keynote speakers are Susan Robertson (Faculty of Education) and Martyn Hammersley (Open University). You can find the preliminary programme here. ‘Early Bird’ registration for the main conference is still possible until June 30th (seehttp://theoryandmethods.com/register/).

Note in particular, on Sunday 26th August, several pre-conference workshops are taking place:

Local colleagues and doctoral students are invited to participate in these workshops even if they do not register for the main conference (JURE members – free of charge / All others €10). In order to sign up for a workshop(s), please first contact the organisers (see here for the contact info) to see if there is space in the workshop of interest, before registering for the pre-conference here.