Using Social Media Data for Good – New Report Co-Authored by Stefaan Verhulst

September 28, 2017

The rise of digital technology and the emergence of social media platforms have resulted in new forms of data that could play a key role in tackling the challenges of the 21st century, from natural disasters to inequality and terrorism crises, just to name a few. A new report by Stefaan G. Verhulst, a member of CMDS’ advisory board and co-founder and chief research and development officer of The Governance Lab, and Andrew Young, knowledge director at The Governance Lab, examines approaches to extract public value from social media data through so-called data collaboratives: a new form of public-private partnership in which actors from different sectors exchange information to create new public value.

In their report, developed with support from Facebook, Verhulst and Young argue that such collaborative arrangements, for example between social media companies and humanitarian organizations or civil society actors, can be seen as possible templates for leveraging privately held data towards the attainment of public goals.

The authors look at recent case studies of data collaboratives between social media companies and NGOs that have been set up to use social media for public good – for instance Facebook’s Disaster or Population Density Maps, or LinkedIn’s Economic Graph Research Program. Building on these examples and the conclusions derived from them, they offer a set of recommendations for developing data collaboratives.

How to use data responsibly

Addressing existing concerns regarding the handling and sharing of data, the report also includes a suggested framework to share data responsibly. Such a framework for data collaboratives has to come with appropriate risk and value assessment measures, continuously updated data responsibility principles and transparent processes, the report says.

“Social media corporations should consider themselves, and act as, the standard bearers for a new corporate paradigm of data stewardship. This coinage represents a move away from the concept of data as something to be owned and towards stewardship of data as a public good. Social media companies should pioneer the role or position of Data Stewards within their organizations”, Verhulst and Young maintain. “Data stewards could help develop new coordinating mechanisms to unlock corporations’ supply of social media data sets with potential public interest value. Such mechanisms must include a due process to respond to data requests; a system for filtering or prioritizing certain kinds of information; and a method to ensure that the data being released matches public needs and demands.”

Towards a data collaboratives movement

Verhulst and Young emphasize that “data sharing cannot be thought of in isolation from other activities or environments. Much more thought and energy needs to be directed toward developing a network for collaboration, supporting ecologies and a platform for sharing.” In order to facilitate this, the authors of the report suggest that “actors from the social media data community —including those currently acting as data stewards— should be brought together at dedicated convenings to share lessons learned; identify pain points; and develop common solutions, procedures, and practices.”

The report “The Potential of Social Media Intelligence to Improve People’s Lives” is available for download here.