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Review of inaugural issue of Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media

By Amber Hinsley, Assistant Professor
July 6, 2021

The editors of the new journal, Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, introduce it with a “modest proposal to disrupt academic publishing.” Such an undertaking is certainly not modest, and their reasoning is thoughtfully articulated in the first issue of the online, open-access journal (abbreviated as JQD:DM).

Editors Kevin Munger, Andrew Guess and Eszter Hargittai explain the necessity of JQD:DM as a space for rigorous “descriptive research that asks the question what.” What, they argue, has largely been undervalued and dismissed due to a perceived lack of intrinsic significance in social science. The emergence of digital media as a research field is a prime opportunity to renew inquiries that analyze what (as in, what is the pattern of this phenomenon?). Questions that center on what explain data that is collected or observed in a particular moment and are less concerned with theoretical grounding that is more directly relevant as subsequent research projects may seek to use causal predictions to answer why. The prevalence of today’s research that asks why is built on the foundation of data that details what, though many scholars view descriptive research as too simplistic and thus difficult to publish in academic journals. Enter JQD:DM and its “embrace [of] rigorous quantitative description as an end in itself.”

In addition to the exclusive focus on descriptive research, the editors are employing a different model for submission to JQD:DM. The process begins not with submission of a completed manuscript, but with a letter of inquiry to the editors to determine fit with the journal. The letters must address specific questions about the research, including the phenomenon being described, how it relates to digital media, and how the sample was constructed. The editors note that this first step will save time for authors and reviewers because they anticipate a higher desk rejection rate than at traditional journals. Additionally, the acceptance of a letter of inquiry does not guarantee publication. When a letter is accepted, the manuscript then will be sent to reviewers. Due to the novel use of letters of inquiry as an initial screening step in the peer review process, JQD:DM may have a higher percentage of papers that are accepted for publication after they are sent out for review.

The first issue of the journal offers insight into the types of descriptive research that may be featured in JQD:DM moving forward. The inaugural 18 articles broadly cover issues related to political communication, the COVID-19 pandemic, and social media use—most of which employ data drawn from surveys or content/textual analysis. In one of the pieces to use a large dataset, Taishi Muraoka and colleagues from Washington University analyzed user reactions to more than two million political party Facebook posts from nearly 80 democracies for “Love and Anger in Global Party Politics.” They identified emotional polarization patterns among posts from nationalist parties as well as parties with extreme ideologies, which drew higher numbers of angry reactions. The authors also included three case studies of political controversies from Brazil, Poland and the United States, which led them to conclude that “reactions on Facebook may reflect not just the content of a post but also the users’ sentiment toward a party at a given moment.” 

Another political communication article, authored by Tiago Ventura and colleagues (including journal editor Kevin Munger), highlights the ways in which the relatively new technology of streaming chats may influence political discourse—and not for the better. In “Connective Effervescence and Streaming Chat During Political Debates,” they examined the live video debate feed and users’ real-time comments on the Facebook pages of NBC News, ABC News and FOX News during the 2020 U.S. Presidential debates. The comments, Ventura et al. explain, are intended to “antagonize your opponents and hearten your allies, but more directly, to become part of [a] living mass of people, to experience the digital analogue of Durkheim’s ‘collective effervescence.’” During each debate, about 10,000 comments were posted on each news organization’s Facebook page, and the authors used the Google Perspective API to score toxicity in those streaming chat comments. Comments on the NBC and ABC news pages were more toxic toward Donald Trump than Joe Biden, with FOX comments showing less difference in toxicity between the two presidential candidates. However, the FOX News chat stream during the vice presidential debate had comments that were significantly more toxic toward Kamala Harris than Mike Pence.

Among the articles examining the COVID-19 pandemic through a digital media lens was “COVID-19 and Telework: An International Comparison” by Hiroshi Ono and Takeshi Mori. In this purely descriptive piece, more than 16,000 surveys were collected from residents in eight countries, and the results will be particularly useful for other scholars doing research on telework experiences across multiples countries before and during the pandemic. Ono and Mori found that people who were working remotely prior to the pandemic had more positive assessments of that arrangement, felt they were more productive, and reported higher life satisfaction than those who did not start remote work until the pandemic hit. They also found some instances of income inequality in which people with higher incomes in certain countries (including the U.S., U.K. and China) were more likely to have the opportunity to engage in teleworking. Employees at larger firms in several of the countries were more likely to be able to telework after the pandemic began than beforehand, suggesting that “COVID-19 was an inflection point for the diffusion of telework into the larger business establishments… a practice that became more common in the wider business community.” However, they note, there are gaps at smaller organizations where workers are less likely to have access to teleworking options. Overall, they concluded that working remotely can be linked with greater productivity and satisfaction—“but only if it is done by choice.”

Finally, in one of the pieces focused on social media use, Teresa Correa and Sebastián Valenzuela describe the differences that occurred over a decade in the adoption and use of four social media platforms by urban youth in Chile. In an interview about “A Trend Study in the Stratification of Social Media Use Among Urban Youth: Chile 2009-2019,” Correa said she and Valenzuela were excited by the opportunity presented through JQD:DM to revisit annual surveys and spotlight data “that never see the light because of this bias [in social science research] toward causal predictions.” They found socio-economic differences among the young adults equalized over time in regard to their social media use but remained pronounced on Instagram and Twitter, possibly because of—at least in the case of Instagram—the platform’s emphasis on the visual portrayal of hobbies and leisure activities that are routinely out of reach for lower SES youth. Interestingly, the data also revealed that the time Chilean young adults had spent in the past with traditional media like television and radio as well as online media had been predominantly replaced by time spent on social media.

Taken together, the manuscripts in this first issue of JQD:DM remind us of the value in descriptive quantitative research—the necessary foundation of identifying problems and phenomena in the social sciences and particularly in the evolving field of digital media.

References
Correa, T., & Valenzuela, S. (2021). A trend study in the stratification of social media use among urban youth: Chile 2009-2019. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media1.

Muraoka, T., Montgomery, J., Lucas, C., & Tavits, M. (2021). Love and Anger in Global Party Politics: Facebook Reactions to Political Party Posts in 79 Democracies. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, 1.

Ono, H., & Mori, T. (2021). COVID-19 and Telework: An International Comparison. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media1.

Ventura, T., Munger, K., McCabe, K., & Chang, K. C. (2021). Connective Effervescence and Streaming Chat During Political Debates. Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media1.