The Ethics of Online Research: Volume 2

Cover of The Ethics of Online Research
Subject:

Table of contents

(13 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xix
click here to view access options
Abstract

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.

Abstract

Some researchers consider most social media communications as public, and posts from networks such as Twitter are routinely harvested and published without anonymization and without direct consent from users. In this chapter, we argue that researchers must move beyond the permissions granted by ‘legal’ accounts of the use of these new forms of data (e.g., Terms and Conditions) to a more nuanced and reflexive ethical approach that puts user expectations, safety, and privacy rights center stage. Through two projects, we present qualitative and quantitative data that illustrate social media users’ views on the use of their data by researchers. Over four in five report expecting to be asked for their consent and nine in ten expect anonymity ahead of publication of their Twitter posts. Given the unique nature of this online public environment and what we know about users’ views pertaining to informed consent, anonymity, and harm, we conclude researchers seeking to embark on social media research should conduct a risk assessment to determine likely privacy infringement and potential user harm from publishing user content.

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to situate how the digitalized research environment is changing the roles of researchers and participants, and how these changes lead to more complex and less discrete ethics challenges. Incorporating contemporary examples from the social sciences, we outline the core challenges of the changing research landscape that embrace both research actors (researcher, participant, and research users) and data issues. The ethical implications related to research actors’ roles are discussed by considering how data is accessed, how people can now participate in research, and issues related to accessing participants. Digital data and associated ethical issues are explored through examining authorship and ownership, how digital data is produced, and how research transparency can be achieved. Following on from this consideration of research actors and data issues, we suggest which challenges have been re-contextualized by the digital environment, and which are novel to the digital research context, outlining six practical yet reflective questions for researchers to ask as a way to navigate ethics in the digital research territory.

Abstract

This chapter provides an overview of the specific legal, ethical, and privacy issues that can arise when conducting research using Twitter data. Existing literature is reviewed to inform those who may be undertaking social media research. We also present a number of industry and academic case studies in order to highlight the challenges that may arise in research projects using social media data. Finally, the chapter provides an overview of the process that was followed to gain ethics approval for a Ph.D. project using Twitter as a primary source of data. By outlining a number of Twitter-specific research case studies, the chapter will be a valuable resource to those considering the ethical implications of their own research projects utilizing social media data. Moreover, the chapter outlines existing work looking at the ethical practicalities of social media data and relates their applicability to researching Twitter.

Abstract

When a study involves human participants, researchers need to ensure their safety and protect their identities. How do potential participants know what they are agreeing to contribute, and how and why the research is being conducted? Informed consent describes the process and agreements that answer such questions. Conventional consent protocols focused on preresearch discussions between the researcher and the potential participant, resulting in a signed document that verified the agreement. In research conducted with, on, or through social media, there are fewer opportunities for conversational explanations of formal documents. Simply posting legalistic documents is ineffective because Internet users typically do not read such materials before verifying agreement. Researchers need to understand communities, contexts, and communication styles of target participants and settings in order to provide information in familiar, user-friendly ways. Based on a review of literature about informed consent, and a study of current practices used by companies that need to verify agreements online, practical research suggestions are offered. Qualitative researchers who want to collect data through active interactions with human participants will find these examples and recommendations of use when designing their studies.

Abstract

This chapter explores the ethical complexities of researching location-aware social discovery Smartphone applications (apps) and how they mediate contemporary experiences of travel. We highlight the context-specific approach required to carrying out research on Tinder, a location-aware app that enables people to connect with others in close proximity to them. By journeying through the early stages of our research project, we demonstrate how ethical considerations and dilemmas began long before our project became a project. We discuss the pulls toward data extraction/mining of user-generated content (i.e., Tinder user profiles) within digital social research and the ethical challenges of using this data for research purposes. We focus particularly on issues of informed consent, privacy, and copyright, and the differences between manual and automated data mining/extraction techniques. Excerpts from our university ethics application are included to demonstrate how our research sits uneasily within standardized ethical protocols. Our moves away from a ‘big data’ approach to more ‘traditional’ and participatory methodologies are located within questions of epistemology and ontology including our commitment to practicing a feminist research ethic. Our chapter concludes with the lessons learned in the aim to push forward with research in challenging online spaces and with new data sources.

Abstract

The focus of this chapter is the intersection of social media, publication, data sharing, and research ethics. By now there is an extensive literature on the use of social media in research. There is also excellent work on challenges of postpublication sharing of social media, primarily focused on legal restrictions, technical infrastructure, and documentation. This chapter attempts to build upon and extend this work by using cases to deepen the analysis of ethical issues arising from publishing and sharing social media data. Publishing will refer to the presentation of data extracts, aggregations, or summaries, while sharing refers to the practice of making the underlying data available postpublication for others to use. It will look at the ethical questions that arise both for researchers (or others) sharing data, and those who are using data that has been made available by others, emphasizing the inherently relational nature of data sharing. The ethical challenges researchers face when considering sharing user-generated content collected from social media platforms are the focus of the cases. The chapter begins by summarizing the general principles of research ethics, then identifies the specific ethical challenges from sharing social media data and positions these challenges in the context of these general principles. These challenges are then analyzed in more detail with cases from research projects that drew upon several different genres of social media. The chapter concludes with some recommendations for practical guidance and considers the future of ethical practice in sharing social media data.

Abstract

Over the past decade, the number of people engaging with social media has grown rapidly. This means that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are potentially good sources of rich, naturally occurring data. As a result, a growing number of researchers are utilizing these platforms for the collection of data on any number of topics. To date, no consistent approach to the ethics of using social media data has been provided to researchers in this sphere. This chapter presents research that has developed an ethics framework for the use of researchers working with social media data. The chapter also presents the framework itself and guidance on how to use the framework when conducting social media research. A full report can be accessed on: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/socsci/research/new-europe-centre/information-societies-projects-225.php

click here to view access options
Abstract

Social media provides researchers with easy access to rich, real-time data that offers insight into both public opinion and the role of social media in public life. However, to date, good practice in analyzing social media has been led by what is technically possible and commercially viable. This chapter seeks to reverse that trend and is the result of a year-long study ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ by Ipsos MORI, Demos, the University of Sussex and CASM Consulting to examine the ethical landscape surrounding aggregated social media research. Based on a review of the legal and market research regulatory landscape in the UK and a program of primary research with experts, members of the public and social media users, this chapter provides a series of constructive and practical recommendations on how to improve ethical standards in this field. Drawing on the context of public ethics, the recommendations provide advice to researchers, regulators, and social media organizations on how they can help to restore trust in social media research and better safeguard social media users.

Index

Pages 243-247
click here to view access options
Cover of The Ethics of Online Research
DOI
10.1108/S2398-6018201802
Publication date
2017-12-12
Book series
Advances in Research Ethics and Integrity
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78714-486-6
eISBN
978-1-78714-485-9
Book series ISSN
2398-6018