Big Data and Social Media: Hype, Fear, Transparency and Commercialization


By: Nikola Rujkov, Mythili Manirajah, Finn Klebe, and Min Wu

What is social media?

Social media is the use of electronic and Internet tools for purpose of sharing and discussing information and experiences with an online community. The members of the social media share most of the following characteristics:

  1. Participation: Social media encourages contribution and feedback from everyone who is interested.                                                                                                                              
  2. Openness: most social media services are open to feedback and participation. They encourage voting, comments and the sharing of information. While they are sharing their thoughts and opinions through voting and comments we learn about each other.                                                                
  3. Conversation: Social media is the fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologs(one to many) into dialogues(many to many) and is the democratization of information.                                                                                                                  
  4. Community: Social media allows communities to form quickly and communicate effectively.                      
  5. Connectedness: Most kinds of social media thrive on their connectedness, making use of links to other sites, resources, and people. Social media provide a way of keeping in touch with friends, relatives,and colleagues. Social media also allow companies, organizations, and governments to reach a large group of people.

Social media refers to the wide range of internet-based and mobile services:                           Blogs, Wikis, Social bookmarking, Social network sites, Status-update services, Virtual world content, Media-sharing sites

Pros of social media: 

The main reason one joins social media is that social media bridges the physical distance between people and make us feel proximity with each other. One is able to record daily life or even track down old friends and acquaintances and renew long-forgotten friendships.

Nonetheless, social media can also be used in a more influential way for our society:

  1. Social media sites spread information in a faster rate than any other social media. Over 50% of people learn about breaking new on social media. It raises awareness of an issue in a high-speed manner. For example, the Red Cross urged witnesses to tell family members they were safe using social media.
  2. Social media helps to solve crimes more quickly. For example, in 2011 the NYPD added a Twitter tracking unit and has used social networking to arrest criminals who have bragged of their crimes online .
  3. Social media promotes political conversations and increases voter participations. For example, during the 2012 presidential election, 22% of registered voters posted about how they voted on Facebook or Twitter, 30% were encouraged to vote by posts on social media, and 20% encouraged others to vote.
  4. Social media brings economic benefit. It created a new industry and thousand of job opportunities, for example, the increase in smartphone sales.
  5. Companies utilize social media as a platform to advertise their products.
  6. Social media helps employers find employees and job-seeker find work.
  7. “Crowdsourcing” on social media allows people to collectively accomplish a goal.
  8. Social media sites empower individuals to make social changes and evoke a response for a particular cause. For example, the nine-year-old Scottish student, Martha Payne and her blog “Never Seconds” exposed the state of her school’s lunch program which promoted international attentions that eventually lead to changes not only to her school but more important, a formation of “Friends of Never Seconds” charity to feed children globally.
  9. Social media can also bring health benefits. Being a part of a social networking site can increase a person’s quality of life and reduce the risk of health problems. In addition, friends on social media can have a “contagion” effect, promoting and helping with goals like exercising and dieting.

Cons of social media:

  1. Social media enables the spread of unreliable and false information.
  2. Social media lack privacy and expose users to government and corporate intrusions.
  3. Social media can be really time-consuming, especially now it is very interactive and often offers suggestions to users.
  4. Social media facilitates cyberbullying. For example, 49.5% of students reported being the victims of bullying online and 33.7% reported committing bullying behavior online.
  5. Users of social media are very vulnerable to security attacks such as hacking, identity theft, and viruses. It’s difficult to verify an update regarding developing issues since everyone is able to post.  


Big data in social media – details on how the tailoring of advertisement works and why the human brain does not become superfluous in this context.

To get a general idea how social media and “Big Data“ are interrelated one can perceive Social Media as part of Big Data. In fact, social media platforms are one of the main providers of data that is analyzed when it comes to working with Big Data. When making the data that is published on social media usable, there is no other way of doing it than using methods to mine big data. Any form of the social media belongs to the so-called “unstructured“ sources and qualifies as big data when using it for any purpose that leaves the original one of sharing and posting, undertaken by the owner of the data. When wondering about how big of an impact social media has on big data, a study that analyzed the available data in the world is helpful. First of all, the study states that 90% of the data available have only been created in the lost two years. The second finding has been that of this amount around 80% are from the unstructured sources – including social media.

Even though the data might be unstructured, there are more and more tools to analyze this data. In this context, the unstructured way of the data can even come in handy, when it comes into play for especially personalized marketing.

In general, big data in social media really tends to be used by corporate organizations that use the data for their advertisement purposes. They use several different ways of how big data can be analyzed and what is it good four.

Three are stated subsequently:

Creating more targeted and personalized campaigns:

This method is used to analyze every customer individually. Even though the data might not be sorted, while mining it for specific names or characteristics, all the data connect to the one name or characteristic comes up. The unstructured way in which the data is available in this case happens to be an advantage, since a broad and thoroughly image of one person is available, instead of only addressing a group with the same interests that might have other ones that are a lot stronger. Considering every customer individually seems to be a trade-off in this case. On the one hand, a firm needs to address every customer individually which can be really resource-intensive, on the other hand, creating the advertisement for one particular person increases the probability that this customer generates more revenue for the seller. Another advantage of this method is that niche markets can be served as well. There are no transactions going missing since the firms don’t engage that much into broad advertising anymore.

Predicting future behaviors:

Predicting the behavior of customers has been a part of advertisement ever since this branch started. However the aspects these predictions were based on were only really superficial data such as web traffic, downloads and time of usage. Social media allows a way more personal picture and enables firms to actually create fictional characters of customers that are way more predictable than the users of the internet in the past. Because people share literally everything, nothing remains hidden and firms can basically live along their customers, fostering products that solve the problems they have today almost in real time.

Testing campaigns virtually

Human creativity is still in place when it comes to creating advertisement campaigns (including slogans, designs etc.). However, the campaigns are less likely to fail since they can be tested online without no cost. Real world data and the reaction of the people in social media can decide whether the campaign can be released in the broader market or not. Reinforcing the little probability of failing is again big data which shows real life preferences almost secures inevitably, that there will be a consumer base once the campaign or product is launched.

There are several more methods available, and since the human creativity still plays a role in creating the marketing endless more are yet to come. One has to think of big data as a tool in this context. It doesn’t do the work but enables one to be a lot more efficient and successful in their work.

Facebook has been one of the most successful social media sites with over a billion user as of 2016. It generates, collects and analyses user data which are then sold to advertising companies. For instance, advertisers with access to a detailed user profile are able to grab the attention of the users by posting advertisements according to their interests. By doing so, advertisers employ a more personalized approach and hence establish a trustworthy and long lasting relationship with the users. Contrarily, such practice raises questions about privacy as users are becoming increasingly concerned over the use of their personal data but it seems that facebook only shares anonymous data where the users’ identities are not revealed.Thus it’s questionable whether such a restriction in sharing data actually does anything to protect the user because ultimately the advertisers have access to almost all information such as interests and etc except their identities.  In addition to sharing the existing user profiles, facebook has also undertaken a new big data analytics project that monitors how long users are focused on certain parts of a page. Facebook’s very own Data Science team ( is using the gathered data in an algorithm to identify the strongest user interests and transfer that information to advertisers who in turn feed users with advertisements tailored to those specific interest. This is bound to captivate the users and hence considered an effective advertising technique.


Google (one of the most widely used search engines) also collects and analyzes big data to make predictions (it specifically uses google maps). For instance, it uses the real-time data to predict the current flow of traffic and the traffic history to determine how traffic is like to change in the coming hours. By doing so, it allows the readers to plan their journey accordingly and hence reach their expected destination on time. Google map’s sheer number of users and hence the large amount data gives it an edge over its counterparts, Waze, Apple Maps and etc (apps that provide traffic information).  It is able to collect detailed information, process it quickly and subsequently put forth comprehensive predictions about the flow of traffic. By doing so, Google maps is able to produce more reliable predictions than its counterparts and hence build a confident relationship with its users.

Overall, social media plays a vital role in generating and analyzing big data for different purposes.

Further readings: (this article gives good insight into the evolving privacy concern with facebook)

(this article discusses the flaws in google’s Flu Trends produces using big data),-part-1:-what-is-it

Bibliography: (google predicts traffic flow with the help of big data)


One thought on “Big Data and Social Media: Hype, Fear, Transparency and Commercialization

  1. I really enjoyed reading this proposal. You have done your research in great detail and it is helpful that we have had a class session that addressed social media as well.

    You have a diverse focus on many aspects of social media and this serves as a great introduction to the topic.

    The only question I have to this is if you will narrow down your focus on a few selected aspects of social media. For example, will you focus on both Facebook and Google Maps or only one? Will you narrow down your focus to a few of the methods of analysis mentioned in your proposal or will you incorporate all of them?

    I’m saying this because from personal experience I know that broad topics tend to be overwhelming if a more narrow focus is not carefully chosen.

    I like your idea a lot!


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