Insights from the workshop on social media analysis and mental health: Putting people at the centre of human data

LOGO - Institute of Mental Health Nottingham

In collaboration with the Institute of Mental Health and CAS (Centre for Advance Studies), the CaSMa team held a thought-provoking workshop that invited us all to reflect and re-think on concerns over social media data, especially when vulnerable adult and minors may inadvertently being part of it.

National experts including Monica Whitty, Karen Douglas, Jens Binder and Ilka Gleibs engaged with their audience to illustrate a series of relevant ethical aspects and their implications not only on internet mediated research aspects but for our day-to-day activities.

Jens Binder, Senior Lecturer of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, effectively illustrated a series of relevant aspects to take into consideration when conducting research including social media data such as (1) the growing responsibilities that internet mediated researches have to embrace to minimised the technical challenges around the concept of anonymity and the risks to confidentiality, (2) the potential to identify anonymised individuals when combining large datasets and consequently compromise trust, and (3) the intercultural and global aspects of social media research including differences between countries and ethnic communities in consent giving, compliance with research regulations or digital literacy and awareness.

Karen Douglas, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Ken, pointed out at the uses and misuses of social media and how anonymity can enable multiple ways of harassment and online hostility to groups or individuals. Her talk focused on the sociological aspects of social media and how online communication and social networking can affect individuals, groups and society (e.g., friendships, activism and social change). It was interesting to learn about the pros and cons inherited on anonymity and de-individuation and their relation to social identity theories.

Ilka Gleibs, Assistant Professor in Social and Organisational Psychology at Department of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics, dealt with the lack of clear ethical guidelines for social science research, especially for large-scale online studies on social network sides. Ilka focused on the ethical question of getting informed consent when data is collected from social network sites (SNS). She argued that data from SNS are not per se public and research based on these data should not be exempt from the ethical standard that informed consent must be obtained from participants. Based on the concept of privacy in context (Nissenbaum, 2010), she further proposed that the norms of distribution and appropriateness are violated when researchers manipulate online contexts and collect data without consent. Finally, she made suggestions for existing and possible future practices for large-scale online studies such as ensuring that the methods and processes used remain rooted in long-lasting ethical practices.

Monica Whitty, Professor at the Department of Media and Communication at The University of Leicester, focused on cybersecurity, the superidentity model (i.e., understanding identity when merging psychological, biological, biographical, and cyber world data), informed consent, and corporate detection insider threat. Her engaging talk invited the audience to reflect on the consequences of business sharing customer data with third parties to increase sales.  The complexity and inaccessibility of terms and conditions was another interesting topic questioning the concept of informed consent. Professor Whitty questioned the reality of obtaining fully informed consent from research participants and pointed out to researches about the need to be more aware of all the additional information we can access when connecting (i.e., aggregating) single data points.

CaSMa would like to thank once more all the workshop contributions that have been relevant in promoting responsible innovation in the capture, analysis and use of human data from an ethically sound approach.

This workshop tool place at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, 15th January 2015

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