Ethical Problems With Social Media Research

In recent two decades, social media platforms have been loaded, representing main opportunities for socializing and connection. They usually preserve an enormous variety of data that reflect human nature, including consumer attitudes, behaviors, and political views. So as a global phenomenon, social media is alluring for researchers. It provides a wide variety of personal data that can be studied and difficult to obtain from different sources.

However, some ethical issues need to be treated with high accuracy. Moreover, researchers should take responsibility for their ways of obtaining and using personal information. And as social media data brings new ethical challenges, some of the old approaches become obsolete.

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Are Traditional Methods Expired? 

No, they are still exploited, but some might argue that they are time and resource-consuming. These methods are questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, and observations. The information contains online discussion forums and blogs, comments, customer responses, and reviews. And now, all the data is often accessible with the use of the search bar on social media. This is why the majority of marketers that need research are dependant on social media and magnet marketing tips to find success. 

It is Not Surprising That Researchers Often Use Information Available to Them.

But then, several questions of ethics arise. This concerns only legal methods of data acquiring, as ethics is about moral values, not laws. Hence, is it ethical from the researchers’ side to receive, use, and spread any kind of personal information they have access to? If yes, they would not go against the law as users who sign up on social media agree on its terms and conditions and permit third parties to access their data.

But Even If The Users Agreed To These Terms, Can The Data Be Considered As A Public Property?

 The answer is contradictive, as not all the information, even on social media, is fully public. Something like a user’s password is considered private data, so does everything that is not on public settings due to the user’s decision. However, researchers might have access to not fully shared information, for example, by joining closed groups on Facebook or observing other people’s comments on closed posts they have access to. So which data is private and which is public? It entirely depends on the ethical views of individuals. However, based on social standards, there is a sensible expectation of privacy regarding social media users’ personal lives.

Is Informed Consent Involved?

Informed consent is a problem solution for traditional approaches, and its principle is simple: if you wish to acquire and use someone’s data, ask them and their permission. However, social media does not make it that easy. Earlier informed consent was a part of the research design; research respondents would read terms of research and then sign it, thus agreeing with information sharing. Moreover, they would individually familiarize themselves with it. But in times of social media, there is no informed consent. Some researchers may argue that users automatically give consent after signing up to social media as they agree to online platforms. But this statement has two significant drawbacks; first, users do not usually read those terms, so the consent does not seem “informed.” And the second one, the time “informed consent,” refers to acknowledging specific research terms and agreeing on them. However, people who sign up for and use social media may not even think that such research takes place and their information is available for further exploitation. So these ‘Participants’ have no idea that they are participating.

Can You Withdraw From Experiment?

For some researchers, it might be tempting, and it is tempting to combine informed consent and social media platform’s rules. However, the crucial part of informed consent is the right to withdraw anytime. So will users be to withdraw from the research and social experiments they have no idea about? Or is deleting a post or account considered withdrawal? These questions open the venue for further social science debates.