RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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207 Methods and approaches in working with digital social media
Affiliation Postgraduate Forum
Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Jamie Halliwell (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Chair(s) Jamie Halliwell (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Glamorgan Building - Committee Room 2
Session abstract Digital social media reconfigures our social understandings and embodied knowledges which have revolutionised our social relationships (Ash, et al., 2016). These technologies and the internet more generally also stretch intimacy (for example, sexual and familial relationships) beyond the domestic realm, allowing people to be together and separate (Valentine, 2008; Wilkinson, 2013). Fundamentally, digital social media is increasingly mobilised through smartphone technologies which transcends socio-spatial relations and provides multiple spaces for negotiating our identities (Longhurst, 2013; Rose, 2016; Taylor, et al., 2014).
This session discusses the ways that digital social media is used by researchers in their research and in particular the research methods they are employing to explore these spaces. It will explore how social media is transforming more ‘traditional’ research methods of the past to coincide with the conference theme of ‘changing landscapes of geography’. A variety of internet spaces and social media platforms are examined in this session, such as Facebook, Flickr, Grindr, Twitter, WhatsApp and online gaming spaces.
Areas that are discussed in this session include:
- Researcher challenges and perspectives in researching digital social media spaces
- Ethical considerations and challenges when ‘doing’ research on digital social media
- Challenges and negotiations of researcher positionality
- Issues in accessing and recruiting participants using social media
- Mixed-method approaches that use digital social media
- Epistemological challenges in applying research methods on digital social media
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Gatekeeping the digital fandom space: a Communities of Practice analysis of post-national discourse in an online Eurovision fan community
Phillip Tipton (University of Salford, UK)
Since its inception in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has grown to become one of the world’s biggest musical events. For most of its history, the contest has been primarily a television broadcast event; recent years, however, have witnessed the democratisation of the contest with attendance at the event itself being made available to the general public. This opening up of engagement has largely been in parallel with the digital democratisation of the contest’s burgeoning fandom who now occupy spaces across all mainstream social media outlets. Eurovision fandom has been acknowledged as a queer space in which the LGBT community have played a significant role both before and after the advent of digital fandom spaces. Recent work by Kyriakidou et al. (2017) has emphasised what they term to be the cosmopolitan engagement of Eurovision fans with the global nature of the contest. This notion of fandom is often painted in sharp relief to the ‘mainstream’ form of Eurovision engagement as a piece of televised family entertainment rooted in national loyalties. The post-nationalist understanding of fandom, therefore, is key to membership of the fandom space both on- and offine. This paper examines the relationship between one member of a Eurovision digital fandom space and its wider membership in terms of the former’s rejection of the ‘cosmopolitan engagement’ of post-nationalist fan discourse. It will be argued that discourses of post-nationalism have become important as gatekeeping devices if we understand Eurovision fandom as multiple Communities of Practice occupying several digital spaces.
Reflections on using Social Network Analysis of Twitter connections in Alternative Food Networks in Chester, UK and Ballarat, Australia: A participant selection strategy
Henry Sidsaph (University of Chester, UK)
Benjamin Willis (Federation University Australia, Australia)
Roy Alexander (University of Chester, UK)
Networks form a methodologically challenging object for research, their characteristics are such that complexity is ever present (Elo, Halinen, & Törnroos, 2010; Ford, Gadde, Håkansson, & Snehota, 2002). In an applied setting, Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) serve as a suitable medium to study network relations.

AFNs are a system of food provision which is considered as the embodiment of the Sustainable Development agenda. Many scholars have explored AFNs in various settings, such as the dichotomy between AFNs and CFNs, to an ever-developing discourse surrounding embeddedness, hybridity and quality conventions (Holloway et al., 2006; Maye, 2013; Murdoch, Marsden, & Banks, 2000; Ponte, 2016; Renting, Marsden, & Banks, 2003; Tregear, 2011). Recent studies have advocated further research concerning AFN actor usage of digital social media platforms as a tool for horizontal and vertical reconnection (Bos & Owen, 2016; Reed & Keech, 2017; von Germeten & Hartmann, 2016; Wills & Arundel, 2017).

This paper reflects on the use of quantitative Social Network Analysis (SNA) (Borgatti & Everett, 1997) using Twitter as a participant selection strategy from which to base further qualitative research. Using the SNA programme NodeXL, this study measured the Density and Eigenvector Centrality of Twitter actors from two Alternative Food Networks which were present in Chester, UK and Ballarat, Australia. This method was selected with a view to increasing validity and replicability in the participant selection stage of research. The challenges of using this method are discussed, its wider implications and suggestions for future study are presented.
Performing social media: artistic approaches to analysing big data
Tess Osborne (University of Birmingham, UK)
Geography has increasingly drawn on big data in recent years. These engagements, typically quantitative in nature, have provided geography with new insights into wide-ranging social, political, and economic behaviours. It has been argued, however, that the typical approaches “tend to obscure, more than reveal, the complexity of social and spatial processes” (Graham & Shelton, 2013, p. 255). Looking specifically at social media data, this article proposes that there is the possibility to produce alternative narratives from these volunteered datasets by re-presenting the data through creative practice. As such, we argue that using big data and art in collaboration has the potential to move beyond the representations of data produced, analysed, and represented through GIScience into alternative and qualitative narratives and re-presentations that consider both the virtual and the physical facets of space. Using several performances undertaken within a public art residency, this paper discusses creative and playful approaches to social media data. Four pieces are discussed to demonstrate how social media posts can be re-appropriated and re-presented. In this project, geotagged Flickr images were used as a foundation for arts performances to give new meanings to the spaces were the social media post was tagged. In doing so, it not only demonstrates the effectiveness of using big data in creative practice, but also how there is the possibility to move beyond the representations of big data produced through GIScience into alternative, qualitative, narrative and re-presentation.
Methodological Challenges of Studying ‘Grindr Tourism’ in Tel Aviv, Israel
Rachel Katz (University of Manchester, UK)
The digital has been a wilderness in regard to ethical methodologies, and studies of Grindr are no exception. Often studies of Grindr recruit through the app itself or use profiles as a source of analysis. Addressing LGBT+ identity within the context of smartphone technologies presents unique challenges around outing, anonymity, and consent, particularly at cost to those located in homophobic regions.

Grindr’s geolocative features make it a unique tool for tourists to interact with local LGBT+ people and spaces. The project discussed examines how Grindr reconfigures practices of space specifically within tourist-local interactions in Tel Aviv. It employs a multi-method qualitative sociological approach that prioritizes consent and reflexive user experiences. 20 tourists and locals in Tel Aviv, Israel were interviewed by the researcher. Prior to the interview, some also chose to complete an audio diary recording their daily Grindr routine. Participants were recruited using snowball sampling with multiple entry points: online in public forums, through email, and via posters displayed around Tel Aviv. The sample was self-selecting, which brings to the fore limitations that arise as a result of ethical recruitment strategies.

This work addresses the ethical and methodological challenges when it comes to studying Grindr, especially in Tel Aviv. What is lost when using “conservative” methods to study dating app technologies? What is gained? The ongoing investigation speaks to Grindr’s potential as a digital fieldwork site with alternative boundaries and regimes, but also alternative possibilities
Lurker or researcher?: what I learned while recruiting voluntary participants from social media
Vevila Dornelles (University of Reading, UK)
This paper explores the recruitment of voluntary research participants in social media. These networking websites are ubiquitous in the western world, and their pervasiveness increases with the larger access to mobile devices in developing countries. This scenario inaugurates new frontiers for research, one of the most important being the unique, potential access to large groups of people. Nevertheless, each network has particular nuances in regards to language use, ethical constraints, reaching levels and engagement strategies. The current literature focuses on social media as data source, and the discussion about the use of these websites as participant pools for surveys and interviews is very much open. This presentation draws from an ongoing postgraduate research about gender relations in online gaming. For data collection, an online survey was publicised on, and participants recruited from three different social media websites, namely Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. As each network presented particular opportunities and challenges, they were individually explored during a pilot study, after which different turnout levels and engagement experiences helped to define the prime recruitment site, as well as the design and application of the recruitment instruments. A successful recruitment was followed by invaluable information about the aimed population and the ideal communication approaches, in addition to important insights about researcher positionality in this activity. Hopefully, this experience will provide useful insights for future successful recruitment strategies on social media, especially for early career researchers, with a potentially more effective science communication as a bonus.
Fan vs researcher: Advantages and anxieties in negotiating positionality on social media
Jamie Halliwell (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Questions surrounding positionality are frequently problematic within many research projects, in particular how we situate ourselves within our research but also how we negotiate the messy dichotomy of insider and outsider researcher positions (e.g. Mason, 2002; Moser, 2008; Jansson, 2010; Wilkinson, 2016). This discussion focuses on these issues more specifically on the negotiation between fan and researcher identity, or what is termed within fan studies literature, the scholar-fan or ‘acafan’ (Hills, 2012). This paper draws upon an ongoing research project that explores the construction of identity within Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) fandom. This fandom is frequently interacted with on social media platforms and everyday interaction is highly mobilised and digitised. The research which this paper draws upon is the extraction of qualitative data from ESC fans on Twitter and the coordination of WhatsApp focus group to understand fan behaviours and how different identities (such as fan, gender and sexuality) are constructed between different platforms and in different networks. Lastly, this paper will comment on how the researcher’s position within the fan community enabled them to recruit participants through Twitter and Facebook group networks, but also how the appropriation of an acafan identity has resulted in a constant negotiation of the researcher’s fan identity.