Social Media Analysis and
Computational Social Science

CMPSCI 691MA, Spring 2015, UMass Amherst
Instructor: Brendan O’Connor
Where/when: Wednesdays 10am-12pm, LGRC A310 (Lederle Graduate Research Center - Lowrise)

See also requirements, resources, and possible topics.


Can we use computation to study society? As computing appears everywhere in daily life, computational techniques could help us understand key social scientific questions. But also, since computing is becoming more social, insights from social science may help us design better systems for users.

This seminar will consist of readings and presentations on (1) social media analysis, and (2) computational social science. Social media is one interesting and recent manifestation of computation in everyday life, and lends itself to studies on topics from mental health to the evolution of slang to the emergence of fads to the dynamics of social unrest. This data’s richness and magnitude (“Big”-ness) requires non-trival computational methods for analysis, and comes with major questions about validity and representativeness. At the same time, we will investigate the social science literature and consider techniques and insights that may help achieve a deeper understanding of these phenomena, and better appreciate the important questions to ask.

Furthermore, we will look at case studies of applying computational methods (like text analysis / NLP, network analysis, latent-variable statistical models, agent-based simulations, etc.) to understand social phenomena in other contexts. These have been developed in many other areas than just CS. For example, in the 1980’s, political scientists developed what we would now call an unsupervised machine learning method to infer the ideological positions of legislators from their voting behavior, in order to answer questions about the structure of American politics. Work like this might inspire us to think of how related methods aid insight in other areas.