As more and more individuals and organizations are turning to social media to express themselves, debate politics, share news and organize protests, their online interactions and content that they create offer researchers in social sciences a unique opportunity to study political events as they unfold and glimpse into how different groups in a society react to these events and organize themselves in the real time.
Online groups just like face-to-face groups often connect people with shared interests and background. On the Internet, we can find a wide range of groups from those that have specific goals and objectives to more loosely connected groups that discuss more general topics. During a crisis like the one that is unfolding in Ukraine today, we can observe a sudden growth in online groups (in terms of the number and size) that are associated with the current events in this country. By studying these groups and their social structures, we will be able to take the societal “pulse” on the events in Ukraine and investigate the role of social media in supporting the collective action.
The broad goal of this research is to better understand how online groups are formed and sustained during the crisis period, especially when the political polarization in the society is at its highest level. To address this research goal, we focus on the use of a popular social networking site in Ukraine called Vkontakte (VK). We are interested in studying how and for what purposes the two opposing camps, Pro-Western and Pro-Russian groups, used VK during the 2014 crisis in Ukraine. As network scholars, we want to know if there would be any observable structural differences or similarities in social networks formed by VK groups in these opposing camps.
Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd is an Associate Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, Canada and Director of the Social Media Lab. He is also a co-editor of a new, multidisciplinary journal on Big Data and Society published by Sage and a co-editor of a special issue on Measuring Influence in Social Media for American Behavioral Scientist. His research initiatives explore how the advent of social media and the growing availability of user-generated big data are changing the ways in which people communicate, collaborate and disseminate information and how these changes impact the social, economic and political norms and structures of modern society.