Humlab Talk: Studying platforms when platforms restrict access
Tuesday 21 November, 2023at 14:15 - 16:00
Zoom - registration required
Studying platforms when platforms restrict access: Methods for critical digital media studies
Tim Highfield, University of Sheffield
Historically, social and digital media platforms have given developers and researchers alike opportunities to search and collect content through their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), allowing for the proliferation of digital media research that explored large-scale datasets of tweets, posts, statuses, and videos. However, in recent years this access has become increasingly limited: Facebook and Instagram researchers saw access to these APIs shut down in 2018, while Elon Musk's 2022 takeover of Twitter / X was followed by a move to ask for significant payment before being able to use the platform's data. This talk uses these key moments in researcher-platform relations as a starting point to consider what types of digital media research can and cannot be done without API access, but also to ask what type of critical digital media studies do we want to be doing? Does restricted access limit researchers, or can it also be used as a means for encouraging methodological innovation and creativity? As digital media evolve, what do we want to know, and what methods would we need to find this out?
Bio: Tim Highfield is Lecturer in Digital Media and Society in the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield, where he is also Director of the Digital Society Network. His research explores social and digital media, from visual, temporal, cultural, and political perspectives. He is the author of Social Media and Everyday Politics (Polity, 2016) and co-author of Instagram: Visual social media cultures (with Tama Leaver and Crystal Abidin; Polity, 2020)