On SAGE Insight: Is Bigger Always Better? Potential Biases of Big Data



Article title: Is Bigger Always Better? Potential Biases of Big Data Derived from Social Network Sites
From
The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

As people incorporate digital media into increasing parts of their everyday lives, a growing number of their actions leave digital traces. This information is available to businesses, government agencies, and beyond. Researchers have analyzed such large-scale trace data to address a myriad of social behavioral questions. This article discusses methodological challenges of using big data that rely on specific sites and services as their sampling frames, focusing on social network sites in particular. Undoubtedly, the opportunities big data make available to scholars studying social behavior are often unprecedented and rightly attract a great deal or enthusiasm and attention. But bigger is not always better; size is not all that matters when it comes to datasets. The article ends by noting how big data studies can address the shortcomings that result from biased sampling frames.

Abstract

This article discusses methodological challenges ofn using big data that rely on specific sites and services as their sampling frames, focusing on social network sites in particular. It draws on survey data to show that people do not select into the use of such sites randomly. Instead, use is biased in certain ways yielding samples that limit the generalizability of findings. Results show that age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, online experiences, and Internet skills all influence the social network sites people use and thus where traces of their behavior show up. This has implications for the types of conclusions one can draw from data derived from users of specific sites. The article ends by noting how big data studies can address the shortcomings that result from biased sampling frames.

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Article details
Is Bigger Always Better? Potential Biases of Big Data Derived from Social Network Sites
Eszter Hargittai
Vol 659 Issue 1
DOI: 10.1177/0002716215570866
The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

     
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