I was really glad to attend to ECREA Digital Culture and Communication Section Conference, under the theme: Digital Culture Meets Data: Critical Approaches. The conference was held by the University of Brighton, Mithras House on 6 – 7 November 2017. Here is a summary of my talk and the slide presentation.
An application programming interface (API) is a constitutive part of social media platforms, it defines not only their front-end interface with varied entry data points but also their back-end interface in which human activities are stored. The latter is a common pathway for researchers to access and collect data. APIs enable social media platforms with a particular infrastructure that frames, shapes and organizes forms of interactions (e.g. posts, comments, tweets, shares) through algorithmic configurations, techniques and parameters. That is a challenging scenario for social media-driven research and its methodological process. Within this context, the objective of this paper is to show the importance of the technical appreciation of APIs for social media research and its political consequences. To attain this goal, the present work follows three main steps: i) a brief introduction of the concept and logic of social media’s “grammars of action” (Agre, 1994); ii) a technical explanation of Instagram API taking into account what should researchers look for in it; after that, iii) an exploration of the potential scenarios for Instagram-based research exemplified through the case of the protests on March 2017 in Brazil; with data collection based on hashtags. This case study is complemented with basic concerns of social media research, such as the availability of digital objects for data extraction, media content and data points, how far back in time data can be retrieved, the standard output files and their data structure, and possible approaches for visualizing and analyzing data. The author argues that the technical awareness of API-based research, together with its practical expertise, is among the best practices to be adopted in social media research.