Digital Trace Data Collection for Social Media Effects Research: APIs, Data Donation, and (Screen) Tracking

Jakob Ohme, Theo Araujo, Laura Boeschoten, Deen Freelon, Nilam Ram, Byron B. Reeves, Thomas N. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


In social media effects research, the role of specific social media content is understudied, in part attributable to the fact that communication science previously lacked methods to access social media content directly. Digital trace data (DTD) can shed light on textual and audio-visual content of social media use and enable the analysis of content usage on a granular individual level that has been previously unavailable. However, because digital trace data are not specifically designed for research purposes, collection and analysis present several uncertainties. This article is a collaborative effort by scholars to provide an overview of how three methods of digital trace data collection - APIs, data donations, and tracking - can be used in studying the effects of social media content in three important topic areas of communication research: misinformation, algorithmic bias, and well-being. We address the question of how to collect raw social media content data and arrive at meaningful measures with multiple state-of-the-art data collection techniques that can be used to study the effects of social media use on different levels of detail. We conclude with a discussion of best practices for the implementation of each technique, and a comparison of their advantages and disadvantages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-141
Number of pages18
JournalCommunication Methods and Measures
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication

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