Monday, 10 October 2016

Not a One Way Street: Ethics & Social Media


To be honest from the outset my first response when it came to Ethics on social media and the use of data was immediately "well users know it's public so all the data is fair play".

Stepping back from my flippant initial reactions further investigation proves this is not the correct approach. As danah boyd and Kate Crawford Critical Questions for Big Data (p672 2012) note "the research ethics cannot be ignored simply because the data are seemingly public", it can't just be assumed that everyone has read the terms and conditions of every social network (I haven't.....YET).

I think it does depend on how the data is being accessed and whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example it would be clearly ethically wrong to gain access to a closed Facebook group, which requires approval to be a member, and then use the data posted in a research project which is then publicly accessible online or through other means of distribution.

It is by no means a clean cut answer as to what is ethical and what isn't, especially when social media is an ever transforming landscape - practices, I'm sure, will change in time.

There are many ethical considerations to be made when it comes to social media research and researchers certainly have a duty of care to those who might take part in any project.

Considerations around age of participants and ability of participants to understand the implications which may result from the publication of their data has to be thought about, as Dr Leanne Townsend and Prof. Claire Wallace (2016 p7) Social Media Research: A Guide to Ethics comment "This becomes of increased importance when dealing with sensitive or potentially embarrassing data".

With initial thoughts around my research project which could deal with sensitive information especially those who may be going through an emotional personal time, this will have to be brought into my decision making in terms of the research.

Townsend and Prof. Wallace do provide a framework for ethical research with social media data as part of their research document, which was put together with the contributions of other leading academics involved with social media research.

What the document makes clear however is this is just a framework and not a set of rules, due to the various contexts that social media is found such as the platform, topics..etc.

The responsibility is on the researcher to interact with terms and conditions of social networks and also those who may be funding the research or institutional bodies that the work is being carried out for, for the purposes of educational course work.

To conclude - this week I have learnt that Ethics on social media is by no means a one way street!

Links:

Critical Questions for Big Data (boyd and Crawford 2012)

Social Media Research: A Guide to Ethics (Dr. Leanne Townsend & Prof Claire Wallace 2016)

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