smartlab1The Social Media Analytics Research Team (SMART) was established as an interdisciplinary laboratory to foster and promote cutting-edge research in the area of social media analytics in the wider realm of Communication. Founded in 2015, the SMART Lab is based in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University. Researchers within the lab study diverse areas in media to enhance our understanding of online user behavior in online communities.

Without doubt, social media analytics is the next frontier of innovation, competition, and productivity. Rapid technological change has led to the generation of vast amounts of data that holds immense value. When harnessed, data can provide meaningful insights that help managers make better decisions. This requires collection of data, its analysis, and visualization, to solve problems being faced by organizations and businesses and enable them to better serve their communities, enhance their brands, and build stronger relationships. Social media analytics research is exciting and applies in diverse areas such as health communication, politics, business, psychology, computer science, and journalism.

It is due to such diversity in areas wherever data is generated that the focus of the SMART Lab is interdisciplinary. Since its inception, the Lab has built collaborations within and outside the field of Communication. Research faculty from Business, Sociology, and Education have been a part of the SMART Lab initiatives.

SMART Lab Aim is as follows: “The aim of the SMART Lab is to provide innovative spaces for research collaborations across disciplines. Furthermore, the lab aims to to provide technology support necessary for students, faculty, and staff to conduct analytics research.

SMART Lab Mission is as follows:“The mission of SMART Lab is to promote advance research and analyses on the emerging big data challenges, through academic collaboration, industry-academia linkages, and innovation. The Social Media Analytics Research Team (SMART) Lab is an initiative of Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, to foster and advance research in social media analytics. The SMART Lab offers quality education and training in data sciences and communication, providing an opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to hone their technical and creative skills with analytics especially in the context of social media. The SMART Lab serves as an innovative and creative space for undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty to undertake cutting-edge research that helps better understand contemporary issues using data tools.”

I have listed research projects that have I have engaged in since 2015.

  1. Research Project: Digital Divide and inequality

Internet access has become a vital tool in people’s lives. From finding a job, a doctor, being informed, to educating oneself, Internet access is vital. Individuals in a modern society rely on the Internet to connect with family and friends, and to be entertained. However, there are millions of users across the world who do not have access to internet. Others have access but are unable to attain the maximum benefit due to a lack of media literacy.

Research team:

  • Laeeq Khan [Principal investigator]
  • Howard Welser
  • Claudia Cisneros
  • Ika Idris
  • Michael Dickard

Athens, Ohio is a town in Southeast Ohio. It is a rural area where there are many surrounding areas that lack quality internet access. This inspired me to initiate this project. Till now, two journal articles have been published in this realm. They are as follows:

  1. Khan, M. L., Welser, H. T., Cisneros, C., Manatong, G., & Idris, I. K. (2020). Digital inequality in the Appalachian Ohio: Understanding how demographics, internet access, and skills can shape vital information use (VIU). Telematics and Informatics, 101380.

Abstract: Access to information and resources via the Internet is an increasingly vital dimension of con- temporary life. However, there can be several impediments to optimal Internet utilization in the form of access, skills, and motivation. Even when access is available, several digital inequalities arise as citizens often lack the skills and motivations to pursue those vital uses through the Internet to the best of their advantage. Digital inequalities in the hills of the Appalachian area of Ohio are often manifested in terms of social, cultural and geographic divides. Not only do the hills block wireless signals and make cables expensive to install, but regional poverty also drives away telecom investment. We conducted a survey of Appalachian Ohio to explore digital inequity issues and the determinants of online participation for things that matter. Through a number of analyses, we explore how Internet access and digital skills impact online contribution to the community in terms of services and resources considered to be basic social needs: health, employment, education, and social media. These social needs, what we have called Vital Internet Use (VIU) can determine citizens’ political and civic participation, societal contribution, and overall benefit to their communities. Centered on the concepts of digital access, Internet skills, and benefit outcomes, we extend knowledge in this domain and propose a comprehensive framework of VIU.

  1. Welser, H. T., Khan, M. L., & Dickard, M. (2019). Digital remediation: social support and online learning communities can help offset rural digital inequality. Information, Communication & Society22(5), 717-723.

Abstract: While all students enter college with varying levels of digital skills, those from rural areas may face extra challenges because their own skills and those of their pre-college networks may be underdeveloped. Without some type of intervention, digital deficits can perpetuate further educational disadvantages. We developed an online learning community (OLC) in two sections of an introductory college course and integrated collaborative learning into students’ weekly activities. Regression analysis of survey data (N = 373) shows three impacts: access to social support is associated with higher skill assessment and improvements in digital skills; rural status is associated with a clear and significant disadvantage in digital skill assessment; and that involvement in an OLC contributed substantially to improvements in digital skills. We conclude with limitations and considerations for future research.

  1. Research Project: Understanding YouTube Conversations on the Chagas Disease through Social Media Analytics

This research project highlights the important role of social media for health communication through an analysis of social media conversations made by YouTube users as part of their interactions with news items focusing on Chagas disease. This research is aimed at achieving three objectives. First is to determine the most active YouTube users who engaged with Chagas disease news information. Secondly, is to identify the most common words/topics discussed by YouTube users as they engaged with the news information about Chagas disease and finally, it also aimed at measuring the sentiments shared by YouTube users regarding news information that they interacted with on YouTube. This study analyzed comments posted by YouTube users from five YouTube videos. The selection criteria for the five videos selected were (a) news videos, (b) videos with comments and (c) videos with the highest number of views. A web-based software called Netlytic was used to capture and analyze data. Voyant Tool was used for word cloud visualization. Sentiment polarity for user comments on each of the five videos selected for this analysis was measured using SentiStrength.

The project led to a research paper that was submitted to a journal in 2020. The paper is under review. The research team comprises the following:

  • Aggrey Otieno
  • Jessie Roark
  • Laeeq Khan
  • Saumya Pant
  • Mario Grijalva
  • Scott Titsworth


  1. Research Project: Social Media use during COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, against the backdrop of social distancing and stay-at-home measures, has further increased the importance of online social media for connection, interaction, seeking and sharing information, and entertainment. Recent estimates suggest that about 3.8 billion people use social media, or nearly 60% of the world’s population. The ever-increasing presence of citizens on online social platforms has obligated governments and health authorities to ensure an effective presence on these sites. Social media use is pervasive, and its use in disaster and crisis situations has become even more pronounced.

In this research project, we explore the role of social media with a particular focus on Instagram as a potent tool for communicating preventive measures, healthy living, and effects mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyze the official Instagram accounts of four leading health agencies: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the National Health Service (NHS). 

The project led to a research paper that was submitted to a journal in 2020. The paper is under review and is titled “How public health organizations use Instagram during COVID-19: Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Perspective”.

            The research team comprises the following:

  • Aqdas Malik, Aalto University, Finland [Principal Investigator]
  • Laeeq Khan, Ohio University
  • Anabel QuanHaase, Western University, Canada


  1. Research Project: Misinformation, Fake News and Media Literacy. [2017 – 2020]

Fake news has gained considerable media attention due to its potential impact on media, journalism, politics, and society. The misleading information in fake news forms people’s inaccurate beliefs. These false beliefs or misconceptions due to fake news have the potential to jeopardize democracy, and even influence the national election results of a country.

Fake news may comprise fake stories, propaganda, misinformation, and any other forms of information that are perceived to have low credibility. The SMART Lab embarked on a research project to better understand how adolescents receive news and judge its quality. We employed a range of research methods and analytics techniques to interpret the fake news phenomenon. The research project aimed to enhance people’s awareness of the existence and impacts of fake news; motivate people to foster media literacy to recognize and filter false information; and urge news media administrators to regulate the creation and circulation of such news.

In the initial stage, we conducted focus group interviews at Ohio University. The findings have been compiled in a research paper form that was sent to a conference as well as a journal. Our conference paper received the best paper award at the annual BEA conference (details below).

As part of the research project, we are also working to conduct advanced network analyses to understand the flow of fake information as well as the actors that promote such content on social media. The team members for the research cluster are:

  • Laeeq Khan [Principal Investigator]
  • Scott Titsworth
  • Bowen Gao
  • Nune Grigoryan
  • Ika Idris
  • Becca King

A research from this project received the best paper award on April 2019, in the News Division of the Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) 2019 open competition. The study is titled, “Navigating Fake News: An Assessment of Students’ New Media Literacy Skills”.

The paper summarizes and discusses the existing literature on fake news and identifies how it compares to participants’ definitions of fake news. The study found that their definitions aligned with existing scholarly definitions such as false information, propaganda, and fabrication. It also found that participants considered biased news to be fake news.

Students’ were also evaluated on their ability to critically consume media and their media production and consumption skills as a part of a news media literacy framework. Results revealed that most of the participants were highly skilled in critical consumption, but less skilled in other domains. Overall, this is considered a positive outcome as it indicates that the participants who are more media savvy and younger, tend not to spread or produce fake news online. The study recommends that media literacy education should be part of the curriculum and should begin early to give people the ability to navigate the marketplace of information.

Another study that emerged as an extension of this research project is in the form of a published journal article titled, “Khan, M.L., Idris, I.K., 2019. Recognize misinformation and verify before sharing: a reasoned action and information literacy perspective. Behavior and Information Technology,


  1. Research Project: Health and Sport Communication in the context of Zika Virus and Rio Olympics [2016 – 2019]

This research is based on a large Twitter dataset to unearth emerging patterns and trends. The project aims to unearth common perceptions and the impact of the ZIKA virus on the Olympics. The project has been instrumental in providing deeper insights about the spread of information in online networks and the impact it has on public health preparedness. The project employed various text analytics approaches to understand conversations on Twitter. Content analysis was also used to have a deeper understanding of the content and the users posting the content.

Research Team comprised the following members:

  • Laeeq Khan [Principal Investigator]
  • Greg Newton [Researcher]
  • Zulfia Zaher [PhD Candidate]
  • Bowen Gao [PhD Student]

The project led to a research paper that was presented at the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference in San Diego in 2017.

Khan, M. L, Zaher, Z.; Newton, G., (2017). How social media defined Rio Olympics: A text analytics approach towards understanding the impact of Zika Virus, International Communication Association (ICA) Conference, May 25-30, 2017, San Diego, CA, United States.

  1. Research Project: Social Media for Social Change. Understanding online advocacy for societal welfare [2017 – 2019]

This research was based on Twitter and Instagram datasets to understand online advocacy and informal charity initiatives. The aim was to understand how online advocacy impacts offline action. The research was inspired by “slacktivism” research in which people support online political or social causes involving very little effort or commitment. The project employed various text and network analytics approaches to understand content on Twitter and Instagram and how such activities galvanized action. Content analysis was also used to have a deeper understanding of the content and the users posting the content.

Research Team:

  • Laeeq Khan [Principal Investigator]
  • Zulfia Zaher [PhD Candidate]
  • Bowen Gao [PhD Student]

The project led to a research paper that was presented at the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference in San Diego in 2017.

Khan, M. L, Zaher, Z. (2017). Sharing online to caring offline: How social media helped build Walls of Kindness across three countries, International Communication Association (ICA) Conference, May 25-30, 2017, San Diego, CA, United States.

A more advanced version of the project led to a research paper that was published in the prestigious International Journal of Communication. The paper is titled, “Khan, M. L., Zaher, Z., & Gao, B. (2018). Communicating on Twitter for Charity: Understanding the Wall of Kindness Initiative in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. International Journal of Communication, 12, 25.”

Study Abstract: This study highlights the important role of social media for charity through an analysis of tweets about the Wall of Kindness charity initiative in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, we employ a theoretical lens of social influence to explore how individuals and organizations used Twitter to promote charitable initiatives. User engagement on Twitter centered on content sharing and identification through hashtags, and imitative behaviors promoted the Wall of Kindness initiative across countries. Results from the thematic analysis reveal that Twitter users were tweeting about the Wall of Kindness to provide information, encourage donations, inspire others to action, and build an online community. Our content analysis reveals that a majority of the tweets were neutral and supportive of the initiative; users mostly shared textual information, followed by sharing images and videos, tweeting news links, and soliciting donations about the Wall of Kindness. Furthermore, media organizations, wall enthusiasts, and journalists were most active in tweeting about the charity initiative. Implications for future research are discussed.

  1. Research Project: School shootings and social media interaction. Analyzing the debate around gun control, race, gender, and immigration.

Gun control is a polarizing debate. The United States is one of those countries where discussions surrounding gun control, race, gender, and immigration often take a political turn and lead to intense debates. Some argue that gun sales without proper background checks lead to less safe societies. Others view this as a Constitutional issue, whereby any discussion on gun control is tantamount to lessening of their freedoms. A large section of the US population is also in favor of federal and state policymakers to come forward and strengthen laws to help reduce gun violence. Our research project was inspired by a school shooting that killed many innocent children. We gathered Twitter data and coded thousands of tweets to understand the conversations surrounding the issue.

Research Team:

  • Stephanie Tikkanen
  • Laeeq Khan
  • Jessica Ford
  • Elizabeth Jenkins
  • Zulfia Zaher
  • Bowen Gao

The research project led to the publishing of the following journal paper:

Jenkins, E. M., Zaher, Z., Tikkanen, S. A., & Ford, J. L. (2019). Creative identity (re) Construction, creative community building, and creative resistance: A qualitative analysis of queer ingroup members’ tweets after the Orlando Shooting. Computers in Human Behavior101, 14-21.


  1. Research Project: Government Public Relations via Social Media [2017– 2020]

Governments around the world are increasingly making their presence felt on social platforms. Facebook is the world’s largest social network which is used for disseminating information, social connection, entertainment, and business and commerce. Sites like Facebook enable direct interaction between governments and their citizens. This research project analyzes the scope and character of engagement of Indonesian ministries on Facebook. Indonesia is a democracy which has mandated an active online government presence and has the largest market of social media users in Southeast Asia. This research employs uses social network analysis (SNA) to investigate social media conversations of selected Indonesian ministries on Facebook. Our network analysis revealed that the analyzed Indonesian government ministries were the centers of the networks. Moreover, the Facebook pages encountered a high number of spam posts, which if not dealt with, can potentially ruin government reputation. Valuable recommendations and future courses of action are offered.

As part of this research, Facebook data was utilized to answer several research questions. The project led to a research paper that was submitted to a journal in 2020. The paper is under review.

Research Team:

  • Laeeq Khan [Principal Investigator]
  • Ika Idris