The Ethical Disruptions of Social Media Data: Tales from the Field

The Ethics of Online Research

ISBN: 978-1-78714-486-6, eISBN: 978-1-78714-485-9

ISSN: 2398-6018

Publication date: 12 December 2017


This chapter explores the perfect storm brewing at the interface of an increasingly organized ethics review process, grounded in principles of anonymity and informed consent, and the formation of a new digital data landscape in which vast quantities of unregulated and often personal information are readily available as research data. This new form of data not only offers huge potential for insight into everyday activities, values, and networks but it also poses some profound challenges, not least as it disrupts the established principles and structures of the ethics review process. The chapter outlines four key disruptions posed by social media data and considers the value of situational ethics as a response. Drawing on the experiences and contributions of Ph.D. students in interdisciplinary Web Science, the chapter concludes that there is a need for more sharing of the ethical challenges faced in the field by those at the ‘cutting edge’ of social media research and the development of shared resources. This might inform and speed-up the adaptation of ethics review processes to the challenges posed by new forms of digital data, to ensure that academic research with these data can keep pace with the methods and analyses being developed elsewhere, especially in commercial and journalistic contexts.



Halford, S. (2017), "The Ethical Disruptions of Social Media Data: Tales from the Field", Woodfield, K. (Ed.) The Ethics of Online Research (Advances in Research Ethics and Integrity, Vol. 2), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 13-25.

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