Younglings launches the Social Media and Internet Lab for Research
Younglings recently launched the ‘Social Media and Internet Lab for Research’ (SMILR) with support from The Noakes Foundation (TNF). We were grateful to have received funding that allowed us to support the infrastructural launch. This new lab gives Younglings software developer trainees a rare opportunity to learn how to extract data from social media platforms and to clean it for analysis. By contrast to other labs that largely support in-house, quantitative research projects, SMILR supports external researchers using mixed methods. For example, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) researchers use SMILR to explore how scholars share state-of-the-art science news via Twitter, engage with digital publics and negotiate varied forms of cyber harassment.
TNF believes that mixed method projects can make important contributions to our understanding of discourse on the internet, as well as the varied meanings of social media users’ practices. A TNF research theme is Academic Free Speech and Digital Voices. Academic freedom is an important right, particularly for scientists whose exploration of promising health interventions may challenge conventional and outdated beliefs. Ideally, universities should provide the space for scholars to pursue paradigm-changing research and policies that protect them from harassment. Very few scholars have such opportunities and those who share contrarian, but scientific, research online can be recipients of relentless forms of cyber harassment.
Since 2019, The Noakes Foundation has worked with Younglings’ software engineering apprentices on data extractions for the Online Academic Bullying (OAB) research project. It was the first to identify and define OAB as a drawn-out situation in which its recipient experiences critique online by Higher Education employees in that is excessive, one-sided and located outside of typical scholarly debate and accepted standards for its field. CPUT researchers are also researching how scientific dissidents’ successfully amplify diverse research outputs on the internet and via social media platforms.
Younglings provision of coding for data extraction and cleaning has assisted the OAB team to circumvent both as gatekeepers to qualitative research. In preparing Twitter data for conversational analysis, the researchers have also identified challenges that seem not to have been described in the literature. Notably, doing qualitative research that can follow microblogging conversations linked to science news.
Younglings launch of the SMILR lab provides an ideal platform to expand much-needed data science learning opportunities for Younglings’ software engineering novices. The number of software jobs in South Africa far exceeds the number of skilled applicants. For our local economy’s growth, it is vital that the opportunities for software education are increased, so that the engineering talent pool is grown. Younglings plans to expand the SMILR lab for giving more interns exposure to data science and analysis opportunities. With an expanded lab there will also be scope to do new research: for example, Younglings would like to work with researchers on developing criteria for South African influencers and micro-celebrities on varied platforms and in diverse fields.
For more on the current research project, Online Academic Bullying, please follow the link: https://www.researchgate.net/project/Online-academic-bullying
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