Dealing With the Platform: The Role of Affordances in Netnography as Rapid Research

Abstract

This case study deals with the adaptation of methodical ideals in relation to the pragmatics of conducting netnography as rapid research in a time of crisis. My study of a fluidly organized response to the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a rapid research design, the learnings of which can aid research in other crisis contexts to come, be they financial-, political-, health-, or climate-related.

Crisis responses are often aided by or nested in social media platforms, and such platforms offer the rapid research project quick access to data. Hence, studies of crisis responses are likely to involve data collection online, such as netnography, which was the method applied in this study. While the depth of cultural understanding available through ethnography online is contested, I argue that an emotionally and socially engaged immersion is possible in a rapid netnography. However, when utilizing such platforms, our attention is invited in certain directions. Just like it matters which parts of an organization the ethnographer accesses, accessing a phenomenon by use of a platform’s digital architecture also allows us to see some aspects of an organization better than others. It constitutes a mediated lens, the risks and advantages of which we need to be mindful. I draw on the concept of affordances to grasp this relation between researcher and digital architecture.

I unpack the role of such affordances with examples from a netnography of the Facebook-based group “DK Makers Against Corona,” which combined data from nonparticipant online observations, video-call interviews, and offline participatory observation.

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