Topics: Facebook, Social network aggregation, Social network service Pages: 6 (914 words) Published: August 21, 2013
Prof. Paula Swatman Chair, Social Sciences HREC University of Tasmania

Ethics in Social Media Research


Research into & with Social Media
• The Internet supports research in 2 quite different ways 1. As a tool: for finding & accessing people / material … • Search engines, online surveys, etc.


As a location: for meeting & interacting with people & groups • Forums, user groups, chat rooms, newsgroups, etc.

• But this distinction is not so clear with social media • Users no longer fit neatly into categories • Tools are increasingly being built into social networking sites • The line between tool and location is blurring …

Ethics in Social Media Research


Social Media defined
Daryl Lang, ‘Breaking Copy’ blog

Ethics in Social Media Research


Ethical issues in social media research
Elizabeth Buchanan, Professor of Ethics, University of Wisconsin-Stout

• Researchers venturing into social media need to pay

particular attention to the following issues:
• Recruitment • Privacy/Anonymity/Confidentiality • Consent – Age verification – Documentation

• Data Sharing / Data Storage • Terms of Service / End-User Licence Agreements

Ethics in Social Media Research


Recruiting via social networks
• Traditional participant recruitment is generally “push”

– Researchers know who they’re targeting – Even with snowball sampling, participant groups are ‘controlled’

• Social media participant recruitment is generally “pull”

– Potential participants can discuss the invitation – and tell others

about it – without any researcher control or influence – Response to participant invitation is interactive, rather than static – And can lead to unexpected outcomes …

– Subsequent posts may modify already-posted information

Ethics in Social Media Research


Privacy in social media research
Problematic for researcher and participant
• Is the space being • How do researchers

researched seen as private by its users?
– Are they aware they are

ensure their participants really are anonymous?
– IP addresses are (usually)

being observed? – What is the researcher’s role?

traceable – Tweets may contain identifiers …

• Is everything what it

– Are Fred X and Mary Y

really who they claim to be? – How often did Fred X vote / comment / contribute?

Ethics in Social Media Research


Consent in social networks
• Adults – consent is relatively straightforward • Links from social networking sites to other, more reliable, sites solve most problems – Surveys (Qualtrics, Survey Monkey, etc.) – Observable environments – Portals / tokens can be used in games environments

• Children / Young People – this is a minefield! • No way of ensuring participant’s age / level of maturity – E.g. are all Facebook users really 18+ ???

• Difficult to obtain parental consent
– And even harder to be sure who actually consented!

• Think carefully about whether some forms of research are

worth doing via social media sites …

Ethics in Social Media Research


Your data and social media sites
Can you still conform with Ch. 2 of the Aust. Code?
• How secure are your data in a social networking site? – Can you access them as/when you need? – Can anyone else access them at will? • Can you depend on privacy / reliability claims from a social

networking service?
– E.g. is your social network of choice always available?

• Foreign government access to your data (Hopewell 2011) – Social networking platforms are mostly US-based, with real implications for your data – US-based data are subject to the Patriot Act & the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act – data can be accessed by US federal law enforcement agencies, no matter who owns them! – Australians storing data on US sites cannot claim protection under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution (which protects against unlawful...

References: • Buchanan, E. (2012) ‘Social Media, Research, and Ethics: Challenges
• •

and Strategies’, the Rockefeller University Center for Clinical and Translational Science Webinar Series, New York, NY, Accessed 30 July 2012 from: Cheezburger (2012) ‘On the Internet, no-one knows you’re a cat’, Accessed 30 July 2012 from: Hopewell, L. (2011) ‘The Pitfalls of Offshore Cloud’,, 13 January 2011, Accessed 30 July 2012 from: Jacquith, M. (2009) ‘Facebook’s bizarre definition of data ownership’, Tempus Fugit blog, 26 February 2009, Accessed 30 July 2012 from: Lang, D. (2011) ‘Where should you post your status?’, Breaking Copy blog, Accessed 30 July 2012 from: Protalinksi, E. (2012) ‘It’s yours – until you upload it’, In Dignan, L. ‘The Social Web: who owns your data?’ ZDNet Online Debate, 12 April 2012, Accessed 30 July 2012 from:
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