Digital technologies are fundamentally changing our lives. They influence the way we learn, work, travel, socialize, disseminate information, and shape our relationships. Online platforms such as social networks and apps are constantly creating new spaces for interaction that operate according to their very own norms and principles. They can help reinforce existing social phenomena or even create new ones that did not exist in this form 20 years ago. Examples of these phenomena include filter bubbles, political polarization, fake news, intra- and interpersonal effects of using social media, the influence of selection algorithms, or hate speech.
Importantly, digital technologies can also map human behavior in previously unattained detail. Combined with new methods from the fields of data science and machine learning, these digital behavioral data offer many new potentials. They can be used to analyze social and political phenomena such as global networking, political opinion formation, or polarization through the analysis of networks, group behavior, or communication patterns. In addition, digital platforms actively shape users’ behavior through communication cascades, search suggestions, or rankings. In doing so, they can promote echo chambers, the spread of disinformation, or hate comments and thus have the potential to reinforce existing inequalities. Digital behavioral data can be used to measure social behavior, the formation of attitudes and opinions and interactions of users and digital platforms by making their dynamics measurable.
GESIS mission is to comprehensively exploit the potential of digital behavioral data for the social sciences and thus enable innovative research with new data and methods. To achieve this GESIS, seeks to address the unique challenges that make digital behavioral data difficult for social scientists to work with. Specifically, GESIS will develop new research infrastructure services for social scientists to effectively collect, process, analyze and access digital behavioral data from January 1st 2022 onwards. In doing so, digital behavioral data will be established as a second mainstay next to survey data at GESIS. The development of new services will be research-based, actively involve the scientific communities, and will particularly promote the linking of digital behavioral data and survey data.
GESIS is developing new services in four core areas: Data collection, data processing, data analysis, and data archiving. These are complemented by basic research on the quality of digital behavioral data, an expansion of GESIS' expertise in the area of ethics and data protection, as well as trainings and workshops to transfer new insights and skills into the social science community.