Contents Introduction Social media research context Twitter studies Hashtags Instagram: Challenges and questions Ethics and privacy beyond the binary Conclusion Introduction Social media, as platforms for content sharing, information diffusion, and publishing thoughts and opinions, have been the subject of a wide range of studies, examining online activity within fields from politics and media to health and crisis communication.
Facebook, for instance, as a closed platform with different privacy settings available for its users, has not been subject to the same extensive quantitative and mixed methods studies as other social media, such as Twitter.
Indeed, the accessibility of Twitter has led to it being one of the most studied social media platforms across myriad contexts: the strict character limit for tweets and the common functions of hashtags, replies, and retweets, as well as the more public nature of posting on Twitter, mean that the same processes can be used to track and analyse data collected through the Twitter API, despite presenting very different subjects, languages, and contexts (Bruns, , 2012; Moe and Larsson, 2013; Papacharissi and de Fatima Oliveira, 2012).
Social media research context Our exploration of Instagram occurs in the wider context of extended research into social media, from both qualitative and quantitative foundations.
These take into account a wide range of social media platforms, including apps as well as Web sites, and studying a wealth of practices and functions, concepts and affordances.
Research into social media has been carried out within and across numerous disciplines, further demonstrating the use of social media for multiple purposes and contexts (see, for instance, the perspectives represented in Weller, , 2014).
There has been a general trend, though, within Internet Studies and other, related fields, towards quantitative-driven, large-scale projects using automated processes to capture and analyse activity on social media platforms.
The importance of tagging on Instagram, for instance, has conceptual and practical links to the hashtags employed on Twitter (and other social media and ‘Web 2.0’ platforms), with tags serving as markers for the main subjects, ideas, events, locations, or emotions featured in tweets and images alike.
The Instagram Application Programming Interface (API) allows queries around user-specified tags, providing extensive information about relevant images and videos, similar to the results provided by the Twitter API for searches around particular hashtags or keywords.
For Twitter, for instance, while retweets and replies can be measured and connections between users identified through following relationships and @mentions, there are several practices that imply connections without necessarily creating a formal, structural link.