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Training workshop on Social Media, Big Data and Digital Demography

Cape Town, South Africa, 29 October 2017 


At the 2017 International Population Conference (IPC), held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 29 October to 3 November, the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Big Data and Population Processes organized a preconference training workshop on Social Media, Big Data and Digital Demography on 29 October. The workshop was facilitated by Emilio Zagheni, with the assistance of Connor Gilroy (both University of Washington – United States).



This daylong workshop taught participants to collect, analyze, and think critically about digital data for demography, in an active and hands-on manner. It covered technical subjects like web APIs and OAuth credentialing, while introducing examples of current demographic research using digital methods. Over the course of the day, participants moved from retrieving conventional census data with programmatic web methods to using these same techniques to access streaming and search data from Twitter and advertising data from Facebook. Additional modules focused on transforming and visualizing the data thus obtained.


The approximately 50 participants in this workshop were diverse, from an array of countries and disciplines, with sub-Saharan Africa particularly well-represented. Their goals for using digital trace data for demography were equally diverse, from investigating women's responses to domestic violence on Twitter in France, to observing reactions to the work of nonprofits on Facebook in India. The day ended with a vibrant discussion among participants of the potentials and pitfalls of web and social media data for demography.


The code and lecture slides for the digital demography workshop are available in their entirety on GitHub. This resource has already begun to circulate among demographers—via Twitter, naturally.


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Funding: Financial support was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to support demographers' participation in the Data Revolution.