One of the great dangers of the digital moment we currently are liveing through is that the discipline as a whole will succumb to a particularly virulent form of availability bias. It is easy to gather Twitter data. It is harder to navigate the Facebook terms of service, and even harder still to cobble together a comprehensive email dataset. As a result, both academic journals and academic conferences feature mountains of Twitter papers, molehills written about Facebook, and an awkward silence regarding email. We study the kinds of social media that we can access, regardless of their relative importance in political life. […]
It is not enough to study digital trace data as an alternative to surveys and content analysis. We must also attend to the messy, flawed, incomplete organizational logics that incorporate this data into strategic deliberation.
That’s David Karpf, closing out his book, Analytical Activism (pp. 174-5), on how campaigning orgs are using internal metrics to make strategic decisions. There’s a lot to it, and strategic data use isn’t the only blind spot. Perhaps more important is the kinds of organizations that tend to get studied, and how that skews the field more generally, making research outputs less useful to the kinds of orgs that actually need them.
I’m writing a review on the book, which takes issue with how the book defines it’s scope and how it’s contribution might be made more widely relevant to activist orgs. Link and summary forthcoming.