Studying fan activities on Twitter: Reflections on methodological issues emerging from a case study on The West Wing fandom

Inger-Lise Kalviknes Bore, Jonathan Hickman


Focusing on issues of methodology, this article reflects on our experiences of studying a specific Twitter-based fan community, and seeks to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges associated with the use of Twitter data for fan studies research. Building on the extensive body of work on online fan practices taking place on message boards (e.g., Hills, 2005; Williams, 2011), fan Web sites (e.g., Bailey, 2002), fan fiction sites (e.g., Coppa, 2006; Cumberland, 2002), and so on, there has been increasing academic interest in how fans use social networking systems such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter (e.g., Booth, 2008; Wood and Baughman; 2012, Zhivov et al., 2011). Social media services are attractive sites for fieldwork due to the ease of access that some of these platforms afford researchers, as well as the novelty associated with certain platforms and the fan activities taking place there. More importantly, though, “exploring Twitter can also provide a snapshot into the ways that television fans enhance their own viewing experiences using social media tools” (Wood and Baughman, 2012, p. 329). Furthermore, exploring fan activities on social networking systems can help us learn more about how fans negotiate the structures of different online spaces, and how that impacts on their engagement with each other and with their fan objects. It is therefore timely to encourage debate around different approaches to researching social media based fan practices, and this article tries to do so by reflecting on how we negotiated ethical, analytical and more practical methodological issues that emerged from our own empirical research project.


Twitter; West Wing; fandom; fanfic; fan simulation;

Full Text:



A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.