Dr. Leanne Townsend and Prof. Claire Wallace of the University of Aberdeen have produced a guide to researching social media. The introduction notes:
Social media platforms are now utilised as key locations for networking, socialising and importantly, for reflecting on all aspects of everyday life. Such online spaces therefore hold vast quantities of naturally-occurring data on any number of topics, from consumer behaviours, to attitudes towards pro-environmental policies, to political views and preferences.
This provides researchers with a huge opportunity to gather data that would otherwise have taken much time and resource to obtain. Yet this opportunity is accompanied by responsibility to ensure that how we obtain and reuse such data is done to the highest possible ethical standards. Traditional ethics frameworks can inform researchers to some extent in this, but social media data brings new contextual challenges which the more traditional approaches are not equipped to deal with. This calls for a new consideration of best practice in this domain.
The guide is intended for use by researchers, students, members of ethics committees, employees of funding bodies, and anyone else with an interest in the ethics of working with social media data. The main purpose of the document is to provide clear guidelines on the ethical use of social media data in research.