Conference Keynotes: Social Media Ethics

Social Media & Social Science Research Ethics

The full programme can be found here or here [pdf] and the abstract booklet is here [.pdf].

Conference Keynotes:

Keynote 1: Professor Susan Halford (Director Web Science Institute, University of Southampton).

The Ethical Disruptions of Social Media Research: tales from the field.

Abstract: Academic researchers currently find themselves at the centre of a perfect ethical storm: at a time when university ethical governance is becoming increasingly bureaucratised and risk adverse some extraordinary opportunities for research are emerging in new forms of digital data generated ‘in the wild’ and available ‘in public’ without any of the usual hallmarks of ethical credibility. New forms of data require a ‘deep dive’ into their ethical provenance and consequences but not fit easily into the principles currently promoted by institutional ethics processes. Drawing on the practical challenges of running a Centre for Doctoral Training in Web Science, this talk will explore these tensions and consider new practices that might bridge the gap.

Bio: Prof. Halford is a Geographer by training and an organisational sociologist by choice. Her recent research has focussed on the politics of digital data and artefacts. Susan is currently leading a team of sociologists working to develop a new ethical guidelines for working with digital data for the British Sociological Association.

Keynote 2: Steven Ginnis (Head of Digital Research, Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI)


Harry Evans (Research Analyst, Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI).

Where next for #SocialEthics?

Abstract: Navigating the contradictory world of social media ethics continues to be a difficult road for researchers. As part of the Wisdom of the Crowd project, Ipsos MORI made 19 recommendations to researchers, regulators and social media platforms on how best to embed ethics into every day social media research best practice. This presentation explores the primary and secondary research that underpinned the recommendations, and provides an initial assessment of progress in attempts to implement these practical, positive and sensible steps forward.

Bio: Steven Ginnis has 7 years’ experience in qualitative and quantitative public sector research, and, as Head of Digital Research, he leads Ipsos MORI’s use of social media research for clients such as DECC, BIS, FSA and NSPCC. Over the past two years Steven has directed the Wisdom of the Crowd project: a collaboration with Demos, University of Sussex and CASM, sponsored by Innovate UK, to improve social media research methodology and to embed ethics into the process. The project has culminated in two publications: The Road to Representivity and #SocialEthics. Steven has presented to Government and the market research industry in pressing for better ethical standards in social media research, most recently as part of the development of the framework for Data Science and the Market Research Society’s social media research.

Harry Evans is

Extended Abstract:

New methodologies and technologies that are arising to take advantage of the depth of data being generated on social media are advancing quickly. There have been attempts to look at how traditional research ethics map onto new methodologies, yet there remains significant contradictions in practical implementation of these principles to social media research – including ethical principles such as informed consent, anonymity at the point of publication and not researching on under-16s.

The presentation will draw largely on the research conducted and recommendations formed as part of the Wisdom of the Crowd project. The project was part-funded by Innovate UK, and executed through collaboration between Demos, the University of Sussex and Ipsos MORI, to explore the feasibility of using social media analysis for the purposes of market and social research.

The presentation will consist of the following sections:

The ethical landscape in context:

This presentation will initially focus on the challenges in creating an ethical methodology, which addresses the various legal, regulatory and ethical considerations that surround analysing datasets of personal social media data (informed consent, anonymisation, ‘private’ data, data enrichment and personal sensitive information, children under the age of 16 and key influencer research). Previous attempts to develop guidelines for social media analysis have been rudimentary and our guidelines aim to build on these.

Primary research findings public expectations and public acceptability:

These research findings bring a new approach to understanding what the public think about social media analysis ethics. The research with the public was substantive and original in its approach, and the findings move forward our understanding of the issues in question. The presentation will use audience voting via smartphones to demonstrate the conjoint exercise (where respondents were asked to rate level of acceptability) and to challenge the extent to which the assumptions of researchers are in line with public opinion. This section will also include some never before charted content on variation in levels of acceptability among the public.

Recommendations to researchers, industry and social media platforms

After a year of study, the project drew up recommendations for researchers wishing to conduct ethical social media analysis. These recommendations were based on interviews with experts, as well as incorporating findings from the public research. The presentation will take audience members through the spectrum of recommendations (boost awareness and build trust, the option to opt out, data minimisation, under 16s, permission for publication, defining private, and establishing an ethical review), and explore what role industry and social media platforms can play to help researchers improve ethical standards.