Communication research has recently had an influx of groundbreaking findings based on big data. Examples include not only analyses of Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook, but also of search engine and smartphone uses. These can be put together under the label “digital media.” This article reviews some of the main findings of this research, emphasizing how big data findings contribute to existing theories and findings in communication research, which have so far been lacking. To do this, an analytical framework will be developed concerning the sources of digital data and how they relate to the pertinent media. This framework shows how data sources support making statements about the relation between digital media and social change. It is also possible to distinguish between a number of subfields that big data studies contribute to, including political communication, social network analysis, and mobile communication. One of the major challenges is that most of this research does not fall into the two main traditions in the study of communication, mass and interpersonal communication. This is readily apparent for media like Twitter and Facebook, where messages are often distributed in groups rather than broadcast or shared between only two people. This challenge also applies, for example, to the use of search engines, where the technology can tailor results to particular users or groups (this has been labeled the “filter bubble” effect). The framework is used to locate and integrate big data findings in the landscape of communication research, and thus to provide a guide to this emerging area.
Stephen A. Rains
The widespread diffusion of social media in recent years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for health and risk communication. Blogs and microblogs are specific forms of social media that appear to be particularly important. Blogs are webpages authored by an individual or group in which entries are published in reverse chronological order; microblogs are largely similar, but limited in the total number of characters that may be published per entry. Researchers have begun exploring the use and consequences of blogs and microblogs among individuals coping with illness as well as for health promotion. Much of this work has focused on better understanding people’s motivations for blogging about illness and the content of illness blogs. Coping with the challenges of illness and connecting with others are two primary motivations for authoring an illness blog, and blogs typically address medical issues (e.g., treatment options) and the author’s thoughts and feelings about experiencing illness. Although less prevalent, there is also evidence that illness blogging can be a resource for social support and facilitate coping efforts. Researchers studying the implications of blogs and microblogs for health promotion and risk communication have tended to focus on the use of these technologies by health professionals and for medical surveillance. Medical professionals appear to compose a noteworthy proportion of all health bloggers. Moreover, blogs and microblogs have been shown to serve a range of surveillance functions. In addition to being used to follow illness outbreaks in real-time, blogs and microblogs have offered a means for understanding public perceptions of health and risk-related issues including medical controversies. Taken as whole, contemporary research on health blogs and microblogs underscores the varied and important functions of these forms of social media for health and risk communication.