An Archive of Social Media Collections for Researchers, Activists, and Artists with a focus on the Middle East
Reviewed by: Faihaa Khan and Rachel Dixon
Review started: February 21, 2021
Review finished: April 25, 2021
Data and Sources
- 87,707,630 tweets in 58 languages recorded between March 2011 and June 2013 from hashtags relating to the Occupy Movements and the Arab Spring Uprisings, of which 544,124 are geotagged
- Samples from 1,239 hashtags were created in total
- A timeline that outlines the process on the project’s homepage is displayed before entering the site, via a third-party tool (TimelineJS). A note is visible that the timeline is a work in progress.
- Older versions are archived on the site, and a 4.0 version of the site that may not yet be launched is available at the same resource (“Legacy” tab).
- Website features a textual analysis of social media in Arabic and in regards to the Middle East using such tools as: interactive media, generative art, and data visualizations.
Digital Tools Used to Build It
- Credited: TimelineJS; metadata through Wappalyzer: Data Visualization Academic | R Shief, © 2020 created by VJ Um Amel. Developer - Josh Bevan
- Site mentions that 58 languages are used, including those from the tweet dataset.
- Site text is first presented in English, even when the browser’s language is changed.
In 2008, University of California Santa Barbara Assistant Professor of Media Theory and Practice Laila Shereen Sakr began to create this multi-function media system with “the aim to attend to critical gaps in computational and textual analysis on social media in Arabic, and from the broader, transnational Middle East.” R-Shief evolved into a fully fledged platform that produces 3D interactive media, generative art, remix video, data visualizations, and live cinema. This project continues to serve as a data hub for billions of social media artifacts collected over the span of more than 10 years across several media platforms. Website features dashboard section of visualization and analysis tools for an archive of millions of multilingual tweets from the 2009–2014 Arab Spring Uprisings and Occupy Movements. When clicked, a pop up featuring tips on how to navigate the site appears as well as a description of the streamgraph, list, and map and when to use them.
A search bar to look up hashtags related to the project is available, but the site does mention that some views may impose additional filters. For example, the map only uses tweets that have an available geotag. Additionally, only tweets that are sampled are ones that satisfy all filters with the exception of a filter that has multiple entries.
Other aspects of the website include a section titled Arab Data Bodies and Archives of the Glitch, a book that shows the study of the impact of social media on popular social movements in the early 21st century focusing on the Middle East, in particular Egypt. It showcases historical events emerging after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq through the use of internet relay chats, digital campaigns, training manuals, technology forums, and billions of social media posts. This allows for an understanding of local life in the Middle East that is not usually broadcasted for the global population. Interactive visualizations of book’s bibliographic resources as well as data stories from The Good Glitch, an interactive companion to the book (not able to click and view, coming soon), are also shown.
An interesting attribute to the site is the ability to view previous versions of it under the section titled Legacy. However, it seems as if you can only view the homepage as many of the clickable links lead to a 404 error page or simply do not load.
Final Thoughts on Project
The “key” tool is useful to tell users how to use the platform overall. Additionally, the site is in relatively good shape considering few updates have been made since 2014. Of course, some elements do not load such as historical links from legacy versions. It is also possible to overload the site and cause a 404 server error by merely clicking on URLs too quickly. Otherwise the project is very fun to play with, and the raw data are rich for exploration.
However, it was still difficult to parse some areas of the site without having more context about how to best use the data. One of the key navigational tools, the key “modal” will pop up at entry to provide some context but is difficult to steer back to. It was challenging to ascertain how the “lists” and “maps” sections were organized at first entry ( i.e., by date? quantity?). Lastly, it is important to know who worked on this site, and the credit is given only to the current developer, unless the user digs through the archive of the previous versions of the project to see the preceding developers from whom the work was built upon.