Christian Pentzold

The article examines the construction of ‘‘Big Data’’ in media discourse. Rather than asking what Big Data really is or is
not, it deals with the discursive work that goes into making Big Data a socially relevant phenomenon and problem in the
first place. It starts from the idea that in modern societies the public understanding of technology is largely driven by a
media-based discourse, which is a key arena for circulating collectively shared meanings. This largely ignored dimension
invites us to appreciate what matters to journalists and the wider public when discussing the collection and use of data.
To this end, our study looks at how Big Data is framed in terms of the governmental use of large datasets as a
contentious area of data application. It reconstructs the perspectives surrounding the so-called ‘‘Handygate’’ affair in
Germany based on broadcast news and social media conversations. In this incident, state authorities collected and
analyzed mobile phone data through a radio cell query during events to commemorate the Dresden bombing in
February 2011. We employ a qualitative discourse analysis that allows us to reconstruct the conceptualizations of Big
Data as a proper instrument for criminal prosecution or an unjustified infringement of constitutional rights. The full OA text can be found here.