Professor Robert Ackland

PhD in Economics (Australian National University), MA in Economics (Yale University), B Commerce (Economics) - 1st class honours (University of Melbourne)
Professor, School of Sociology
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Research interests

  • Network science
  • Web science
  • Social network analysis
  • Index number theory
  • International comparisons of income and poverty


Robert works at the intersection of empirical social science and computer science, developing new approaches (involving information retrieval, data visualisation and social network analysis) for studying networks on the World Wide Web. He has been a chief investigator on five Australian Research Council grants and under a 2005 ARC Special Research Initiative (e-Research Support) grant, he established the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks project. Robert has co-organised symposia focusing on e-Social Science (2004) and the social impact of nanotechnology (2006) and in 2007, he spent six months at the Oxford Internet Institute under a UK National Centre for e-Social Science Visiting Fellowship and a University of Oxford James Martin Visiting Fellowship.

Robert has degrees in economics from the University of Melbourne, Yale University (where he was a Fulbright Scholar) and the ANU, where he completed his PhD in economics (on index number theory and international comparisons of income) in 2001. Prior to commencing his PhD, Robert gained extensive experience in applied economic and statistical analysis in the government and non-government sectors. From 1991-1993, he worked as a senior researcher in the Bureau of Immigration Research (Commonwealth Department of Immigration). He worked as a World Bank consultant (based in Washington DC, 1995-1997) in the area of poverty analysis and has also consulted on AusAID and Asian Development Bank projects in this area. Robert teaches courses on the social science of the Internet and online research method in the Master of Social Research and his book Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age was published by SAGE in 2013.

Researcher's projects

  • I lead the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks project (, which is known internationally for the VOSON software for hyperlink network analysis and other related research
  • My book with SAGE Publications titled Web Social Science: Concepts, Data and Tools for Social Scientists in the Digital Age ( was published in June 2013
  • I conduct research at the intersection of network science and web science.  My research into online social and organisational networks has been published in journals such as Social Networks, Journal of Social Structure, Computational Economics and Social Science Computer Review.
  • I conduct research into index numbers in the context of cross-country comparisons of income and poverty.  This research has been published in the Review of Economics and Statistics.

Available student projects

I am interested in supervising PhD students working on social science research topics at the intersection of social science, network science and computer science. Please note that PhD studetns for whom I am panel chair or primary supervisor will typically have honours or postgraduate training in social science (e.g. sociology, political science, communication, economics). Possible areas include:

  • identifying social influence/social selection in social media networks
  • misinformation, coordinated behaviour, political deliberation on social media
  • index number theory applied to online networks
  • statistical social network analysis applied to online networks
  • dynamic analysis of social media networks

Current student projects

PhD candidates:

  • Nicholas Corbett (PhD candidate, School of Sociology) - Algorithmic platforms and the alt-right: considering a new understanding of online extremism. My role: panel chair and primary supervisor.
  • Bryan Gertzel (PhD candidate, School of Sociology) - The role and impact of social bots: a computational social science and software design perspective. My role: panel chair and primary supervisor.
  • Sidiq Madaj (PhD candidate, School of Sociology) - Data Sovereignty:The Web of Narratives from Non-State Actors. My role: panel chair and primary supervisor.
  • Mikayla Novak (PhD candidate, School of Sociology) - Tweeting hydrogen: An Exploratory Study of Australian Twitter Communications about Hydrogen Decarbonisation. My role: panel chair and primary supervisor.
  • Simon Copland  (PhD candidate, School of Sociology) - The ‘manosphere’ on Reddit. My role: associate supervisor.
  • Robert Fleet (PhD candidate, Centre for Digital Humanities Research) - Researching organised violence using online video game data. My role: associate supervisor.
  • Miguel Lattz (PhD candidate, School of Sociology) - Chileans’ anger at inequality boils over. My role: panel chair and associate supervisor.
  • Yuanyuan Shang (PhD candidate, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science) - Social Media and Online Public Deliberation: A Case Study of Climate Change Communication on Twitter. My role: associate supervisor.

Past student projects

PhD students:

  • Mahin Raissi (PhD, Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute [now School of Demography], ANU, 2016) - Online social networks and subjective well-being of older Australians. My role: panel chair and primary supervisor.
  • Ian Wood (PhD, Research School of Computer Science, ANU, 2016) - Watching the unobservable - On measuring social dynamics of online social media. My role: joint primary supervisor.
  • Pilar Rioseco (PhD, Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute [now School of Demography], ANU, 2015) - The role of social connectedness in the process of retirement in Australia. My role: associate supervisor.
  • Minkyoung Kim (PhD, Research School of Computer Science, ANU, 2014) - Dynamics of information diffusion. My role: associate supervisor.
  • Harsh Taneja (PhD, School of Communication, Northwestern University, 2014) - Explaining global audience flow on the World Wide Web. My role: committee member.

Masters students:

  • Rizwan Saeed (Master of Social Research - Advanced), ANU, 2019). Twitter and development of social capital (in Pakistan): A gender perspective. My role: thesis supervisor.
  • Sneha Vaidya (Master of Social Research - Advanced, ANU, 2019). Social and political engagement on Twitter in India. My role: thesis supervisor.
  • Kyosuke Tanaka (Master of Social Research - Advanced, ANU, 2015) - Self-disclosure and homophily in online social networks. My role: thesis supervisor.
  • Cecilie Einarson Pérez (Master of Social Research - Advanced, ANU, 2014) - Tweeting the frame: frames and fields in the age of the networked individual. My role: thesis supervisor.

Honours students:

  • Lauren Northcote (Honours in Sociology, ANU, 2021) -  The Memes that Moved the Market: Understanding meme propagation in the GameStop short squeeze through the revival of Gabriel Tarde’s hundred-year-old theories. My role: thesis supervisor.
  • Karl Gwynn (Honours in Sociology, ANU, 2019) - Incivility in the Australian Political Twittersphere. My role: thesis supervisor.


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Updated:  22 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers