New lab uses data to analyze social media

Rachel Cooper

The Computational Media Lab, a new project from the School of Journalism, is combining computer science and social media to analyze millions of tweets, Facebook comments and more.

The lab is currently working on three projects including one analyzing 3 million tweets with the word “Trump” from President Donald Trump’s first 30 days in office. The other two projects will explore Facebook comments on Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s pages during the election, and analyze tweets with the hashtag #WomenCanStopTrump.

Director Dhiraj Murthy said the lab uses data from social platforms to analyze social, political and economic issues.

“By collaborating across all those different disciplinary perspectives, we can look at really big questions that we wouldn’t be able to do from one little perspective,” Murthy said. “I think the big picture (of the lab) is a platform for us to use advanced computational methods to be able to analyze pressing social issues of our time.”

The lab was founded in the Belo Center for New Media this January by Murthy, an associate professor of journalism and sociology. The lab is composed of a team of faculty and graduate students from the Moody College of Communication who work with the Texas Advanced Computer Center to process the large amounts of data.

Journalism graduate student Jeremy Shermak, a lab researcher, said he thinks it will become one of the top research centers for computational media in the country.

“Being part of journalism is kind of interesting because it gives us the power to look at all this big data through the lens of journalism,” Shermak said. “Considering all the issues that are occurring right now in journalism, like fake news and a lot of hostility toward the press, being able to mine this data allows us to tell a much broader view of the story.”  

Project manager Kelsey Whipple, a journalism graduate student, said the team is already getting results from their data processing, but the time it will take to analyze the results is unpredictable. Whipple said she is excited to work with a collaborative team and learn from Murthy.

“I think the most exciting thing to me is not only do I get to work with a really fantastic professor who is an expert in these things, but later on I’ll be prepared to do this by myself without him,” Whipple said.