Conditions for Consent to analyze Social Media data

In this CaSMa project, which is led by Dr. Ansgar Koene, we are interested in exploring the impact of using explicit consent request methods on the size and composition of data-sets for social media based research. It is often argued that explicit consent from the people who posted messages on publicly accessible social media, e.g. Twitter, is not required when doing analyses because such services are ‘public broadcast’ forums. It could be argued however that regardless of the broadcast nature of tool like Twitter, users of the medium did not intend for their post to be scrutinized using research analysis methods (e.g. Corpus Linguistics). A second argument that is used against asking informed consent is that seeking consent would dramatically reduce and skew the available data since only a small section of users might give their consent.

In this study we propose to test these assertions by contacting social media users and asking them which conditions would need to be met in order for them to consent to having their social media data used for a various types of research purposes. We will also ask a range of demographic information so that we can analyze how factors like age, level of education, political orientation, computing literacy, etc. affect people’s willingness to submit their data for research by academic, corporate, governmental or charity organizations.

The results from this questionnaire survey will help to inform future guidelines for the ethical user of social media data in research. Key to this is that we are not simply asking if people are willing to share their data for research but are instead asking what kind of information they would want to have about the research in order to feel confident about giving consent for having their data used.

Other novel information that is not yet available will come from the comparison between people’s attitudes towards data sharing depending on the type of organization that is doing the research, academic, corporate, government or charity/NGO/NPO.

The on-line questionnaire associated with this project is now live.

The following presentation related to this project was given at that BAAL workshop on Ethics of Online Research Methods (16-17 April, 2015):

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Citizen-centric approaches to Social Media analysis