Is It Time to Re-Evaluate the Ethics Governance of Social Media Research?
Samuel G., Ahmed W., Kara H., Jessop C., Quinton S., Sanger S.
This article reports on a U.K. workshop on social media research ethics held in May 2018. There were 10 expert speakers and an audience of researchers, research ethics committee members, and research institution representatives. Participants reviewed the current state of social media ethics, discussing well-rehearsed questions such as what needs consent in social media research, and how the public/private divide differs between virtual and real-life environments. The lack of answers to such questions was noted, along with the difficulties posed for ethical governance structures in general and the work of research ethics committees in particular. Discussions of these issues enabled the creation of two recommendations. The first is for research ethics committees and journal editors to add the category of 'data subject research' to the existing categories of 'text research' and 'human subject research'. This would reflect the fact that social media research does not fall into either of the existing categories and so needs a category of its own. The second is that ethical issues should be considered at all stages of social media research, up to and including aftercare. This acknowledges that social media research throws up a large number of ethical issues throughout the process which, under current arrangements for ethical research governance, risks remaining unaddressed.