I consider myself as an active participant on Twitter, I often tweet about my research or articles/conversations that I think are relevant to my academic interests. My participation is both a
procrastination leisure activity and a professional activity, inevitably both these activities coincide and I am left with an ethical conundrum. Should I contribute to online conversations I find genuinely interesting and directly relevant to my work, when at the same time I am recording the conversation for analysis?
This question is progressively relevant as a recent development has boosted one of my case studies to mainstream media and prompted a series of reactions that vary from passing commentary to personal attacks to the persons involved. This aggressive end of the spectrum caught me off-guard and I am genuinely afraid of it.
As a researcher, I know I must not be biased and I know I must not interfere – but when comments ‘cross the line’ I feel morally obligated to say something and to report the user. To do so would disclose my research and potentially affect the results of my study, not to mention any potential of anonymity.
How do I reconcile my role as a user that advocates for safe spaces online and my role as an ethical and mindful researcher?
Since there are no best practices (or common practices) for researching social media or using social media data for research, I believe that we need to acknowledge the duality of our role. This entails:
- protecting our subjects as well as ourselves, which could entail recording online transactions and reporting them as needed
- decide how anonymity of your subjects/results is approached
- are you seeking consent?
- are you editing images?
- are you paraphrasing?
- decide how your anonymity is approached
- are you using your personal account?
- if not, are you disclosing your project aims in your description?
- reflect on your methods and your approach to social media from a personal use and a professional use – include these reflections in your writing
Disclaimer: this list is not meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive, rather it is meant to be a starting point.
These questions are some of the issues I am currently struggling with on my own research, have you experienced similar conflicts? How did you resolve them?