Using Twitter for Demographic and Social Science Research: Tools for Data Collection


Despite recent and growing interest in using Twitter to examine human behavior and attitudes, there is still significant room for growth regarding the ability to leverage Twitter data for social science research. In particular, gleaning demographic information about Twitter users—a key component of much social science research—remains a challenge. This article develops an accurate and reliable data processing approach for social science researchers interested in using Twitter data to examine behaviors and attitudes, as well as the demographic characteristics of the populations expressing or engaging in them. Using information gathered from Twitter users who state an intention to not vote in the 2012 presidential election, we describe and evaluate a method for processing data to retrieve demographic information reported by users that is not encoded as text (e.g., details of images) and evaluate the reliability of these techniques. We end by assessing the challenges of this data collection strategy and discussing how large-scale social media data may benefit demographic researchers.

Sociological Methods and Research