Social Media and Big Data- Jacqueline Briggs

‘But data does not just exist, it has to be generated,’ (Manovich 2002)[1]. The rapid expansion of active social media use in the past decade has created an avenue for which big data can be easily generated and stored. Controversy around companies keeping big data has sparked privacy concerns amongst users and has also arose questions for the effectiveness of keeping such data.


It is well understood that technology is advancing at an exponential rate creating it difficult for adequate government regulations to keep up. The protection of privacy is a paramount concern when considering the use and aggregation of big data, especially within social media sites.


Facebook, with over 950 million members, is rife with big data collection. 2.5 billion content items are shared per day, including status updates, wall posts, photos videos and comments, while there is over 500+ terabytes of new data ingested into the databases every day. Jay Parikh, vice president of Infrastructure Engineering at Facebook says, ‘Big data simply is about having insight and using it to make impact on your business.’[2] He further explains that if you are not taking advantage of the data that you are collecting than it is just useless. So if Facebook stores every click that you make, every like and every comment you send what does it mean to you and is there a reason behind this.


Big data in relation to social media creates a separate trajectory due to the personal nature of the data collected, which cannot usually be collected anywhere else. The benefits to us as social media users can gain is receiving insights into our own lives that we might have never achieved on our own. If one was to visualize this data it could help us make sense of the social dynamics surrounding us. Below is a graph[3] displaying a users relationships from LinkedIn, which allows us to see how he is related to his colleagues and how closely there are related to each other. By social media sites collating our data they can ultimately help match up friends and those who we should be connected with.



Cameron Uganec’s LinkedIn network, visualized.

Many companies use Big Data as a way to provide their service for free. Taking Facebook or Google for example, they are both free sites to use however as they can collate your data they can specifically target advertisements to suit your personal needs. This is a way for Facebook or Google to generate money through you indirectly. Companies like Facebook or Google who harvest our data and use for advertising might not be a bad thing but is it the most effective? One search for an orange dress can create the same shade of orange dresses appear on your advertisements for a month later. Thus sometimes the collection and aggregation of data might not be accurately representing the needs of the person. Being able to set your own advertising you are interested in could curb this problem and ultimately show that big data may not be ‘all knowing’ and can be up for interpretation.


If we understand the extent of information that social media can collect about our personal lives would we instead prefer to pay a fee for the use of the site instead of the stark trade off between privacy and a free service? ‘After all, our privacy is a human right, it’s guaranteed under the universal declaration of human rights, and it’s an element of human dignity and autonomy and our own personal security. And the fact that corporations and governments are now putting us under this kind of intensive surveillance and are then able to control us or manipulate us, perhaps there needs to be a check on this unfettered use of our private information.’[4]

[1] Manovich L, 2002, ‘The Anti- Sublime Ideal in Data Art’.

[2] Preimesberger C, 2012, How Facebook is handling all that really big data, eWeek, <>.

[3] Uganec C, 2013, Social Media, Big Data And Visualisation, Hootsuite, <;.

[4] Fraser M, 2014, Social media, data and property rights, ABC, <;.


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