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New Media, New Ethics:                                           How Social Media-based Research Demands New Attentionto ...
Outline What is Social Media (Internet) research? What ethical concerns arise in social media  research?   Selected cas...
What does Social Media Research look like? Using Social Media tools to engage in (traditional)   research    Online surv...
Conceptual Gaps & Policy Vacuums Computer technology transforms “many of our  human activities and social institutions,” ...
Ethical Concerns The growing use of social media tools,  platforms & environments illuminate particular  ethical concerns...
Illuminating Cases1. Research on Tor network2. Archiving of public Twitter streams3. Harvesting Facebook profile informati...
Research on Tor Network Computer science researchers increasingly  interested in network traffic on the Tor  anonymity ne...
Archiving Twitter Streams Is it ethical for researchers to follow and      systematically capture public Twitter streams ...
LOC Archiving of Tweets     Library of Congress will archive all public tweets       6 month delay, restricted access to...
Pete Warden Facebook Dataset Exploited flaw in Facebook’s architecture to  access and harvest publicly-viewable profile  ...
Pete Warden Facebook Dataset      Planned to release entire dataset – with all           personal information intact – to...
T3 Facebook Project       Harvard-based Tastes, Ties, and Time (T3)            research project sought to understand soci...
“Anonymity” of the T3 Dataset                 “All the data is cleaned so you can’t connect                            any...
Good-Faith Efforts to Protect Subject                                                    Privacy      1. Only those data t...
T3 Facebook Project        Chronicle of Higher Education                         July 10, 2011
The Blackberry Project Ongoing longitudinal study examining teen  behavior and sociability   Recruited 281 third and fou...
Illuminating Cases1. Research on Tor network2. Archiving of public Twitter streams3. Harvesting Facebook profile informati...
Ethical Concerns Conceptual Gaps The growing use of social media tools,  platforms & environments illuminate particular ...
Conceptual Gap: Privacy           Presumption that because subjects make information                available on a blog, ...
Conceptual Gap: Anonymity vs.                                                 Identifiability      Presumption that strip...
Conceptual Gap: Consent Presumption that because something is shared or   available without a password, the subject is co...
Conceptual Gap: Harm Presumption that “harm” means risk of physical or   tangible impact on subject    Researchers often...
Conceptual Gap: Human Subjects      Researchers (esp. CompSci) often interact only            with datasets, objects, or ...
Ethical Concerns Conceptual Gaps The growing use of social media tools,  platforms & environments illuminate particular ...
Conceptual Gaps  Policy Vacuums Researchers & IRBs are trying to do the right thing   when faced with research projects ...
Removing the gaps, filling the vacuums Scholarship   Buchanan & Ess studying how IRBs deal with     Internet research   ...
Removing the gaps, filling the vacuums Education & outreach   Growing focus at PRIM&R and related events   Engage disci...
New Media, New Ethics:                                           How Social Media-based Research Demands New Attentionto ...
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New Media, New Ethics - ICA 2012

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Slides for my presentation at ICA 2012 panel on Researching Social Media: Ethical and Methodological Challenges

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New Media, New Ethics - ICA 2012

  1. 1. New Media, New Ethics: How Social Media-based Research Demands New Attentionto Research Ethics Michael Zimmer, PhD Assistant Professor, School of Information Studies Director, Center for Information Policy Research University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee zimmerm@uwm.edu www.michaelzimmer.org
  2. 2. Outline What is Social Media (Internet) research? What ethical concerns arise in social media research?  Selected cases Conceptual gaps in our ethical frameworks Closing the gaps for researchers & IRBs
  3. 3. What does Social Media Research look like? Using Social Media tools to engage in (traditional) research  Online survey & data-collection tools  Subject recruitment via email, social media  Storing, processing, sharing data in the cloud Using Social Media as the site for your research  Interviewing/observing subjects in chat rooms, virtual worlds, online games  Collecting/merging data from online profiles, feeds, newsgroups, blogs, archives, activity logs
  4. 4. Conceptual Gaps & Policy Vacuums Computer technology transforms “many of our human activities and social institutions,” and will “leave us with policy and conceptual vacuums about how to use computer technology” “Often, either no policies for conduct in these situations exist or existing policies seem inadequate. A central task of Computer Ethics is to determine what we should do in such cases, that is, formulate policies to guide our actions.” Jim Moor, “What is Computer Ethics?”
  5. 5. Ethical Concerns The growing use of social media tools, platforms & environments illuminate particular ethical concerns for researchers:  Privacy  Anonymity vs. Identifiability  Consent  Harm & Human subjects
  6. 6. Illuminating Cases1. Research on Tor network2. Archiving of public Twitter streams3. Harvesting Facebook profile information4. Capturing teen email & text messaging traffic
  7. 7. Research on Tor Network Computer science researchers increasingly interested in network traffic on the Tor anonymity network  What kind of traffic is on this network?  What kind of users?  How secure is it?  Or, just capture Tor data as convenience sample But users of Tor are intentionally seeking additional privacy and anonymity  Research often not even vetted by IRBs Soghoain, C. (2011) “Enforced Community Standards For Research on Users of the Tor Anonymity Network”
  8. 8. Archiving Twitter Streams Is it ethical for researchers to follow and systematically capture public Twitter streams without first obtaining specific, informed consent by the subjects?  Are tweets publications (texts), or utterances?  What are users’ expectations to how their tweets are being found & used?  What if a user later changes her privacy settings, or deletes tweets, etchttp://michaelzimmer.org/2010/02/12/is-it-ethical-to-harvest-public-twitter-accounts-without-consent/
  9. 9. LOC Archiving of Tweets  Library of Congress will archive all public tweets  6 month delay, restricted access to researchers only  Open questions:  Can users opt-out from being in permanent archive?  Can users delete tweets from archive?  Will geolocational and other profile data be included?  What about a public tweet that is re-tweeting a private one?  Did users ever expect their tweets to become permanent part of LOC’s archives?http://michaelzimmer.org/2010/04/14/open-questions-about-library-of-congress-archiving-twitter-streams/
  10. 10. Pete Warden Facebook Dataset Exploited flaw in Facebook’s architecture to access and harvest publicly-viewable profile information of 215 million users http://petewarden.typepad.com/searchbrowser/2010/02/how-to-split-up-the-us.html
  11. 11. Pete Warden Facebook Dataset  Planned to release entire dataset – with all personal information intact – to academic community  Would it be acceptable to use this dataset?  Users knew (?) data was public, but did they expect it to be harvested by bots, aggregated, and made available as raw data?  Under threat of lawsuit from Facebook, Warden destroyed the datahttp://michaelzimmer.org/2010/02/12/why-pete-warden-should-not-release-profile-data-on-215-million-facebook-users/
  12. 12. T3 Facebook Project  Harvard-based Tastes, Ties, and Time (T3) research project sought to understand social network dynamics of large groups of students  Worked with Facebook & an “anonymous” university to harvest the Facebook profiles of an entire cohort of college freshmen  Repeated each year for their 4-year tenure  NSF mandated release of data, first wave in Sept 2008Zimmer, M. 2010. “But the data is already public”: On the ethics of research in Facebook. Ethics & Information Technology.
  13. 13. “Anonymity” of the T3 Dataset “All the data is cleaned so you can’t connect anyone to an identity”  But dataset had unique cases (based on codebook)  If we could identify the source university, individuals could potentially be identified  Took me minimal effort to discern the source was Harvard  The anonymity (and privacy) of subjects in the study might be in jeopardy….Zimmer, M. 2010. “But the data is already public”: On the ethics of research in Facebook. Ethics & Information Technology.
  14. 14. Good-Faith Efforts to Protect Subject Privacy 1. Only those data that were accessible by default by each RA were collected 2. Removing/encoding of “identifying” information 3. Tastes & interests (“cultural footprints”) will only be released after “substantial delay” 4. To download, must agree to “Terms and Conditions of Use” statement 5. Reviewed & approved by Harvard’s IRBZimmer, M. 2010. “But the data is already public”: On the ethics of research in Facebook. Ethics & Information Technology.
  15. 15. T3 Facebook Project Chronicle of Higher Education July 10, 2011
  16. 16. The Blackberry Project Ongoing longitudinal study examining teen behavior and sociability  Recruited 281 third and fourth graders in 2003 Gave them free Blackberries and unlimited plans in 2009 Content of all text messages, e-mail messages, and instant messages was saved to a secure server owned by the researchers Consent is renewed, but concerns over undue influence, parental respect for youth privacy, etc
  17. 17. Illuminating Cases1. Research on Tor network2. Archiving of public Twitter streams3. Harvesting Facebook profile information4. Capturing teen email & text messaging traffic
  18. 18. Ethical Concerns Conceptual Gaps The growing use of social media tools, platforms & environments illuminate particular ethical concerns for researchers:  Privacy  Anonymity vs. Identifiability  Consent  Harm & Human subjects And present us new conceptual gaps on how to apply existing research ethics policies
  19. 19. Conceptual Gap: Privacy  Presumption that because subjects make information available on a blog, Facebook, or Twitter, they don’t have an expectation of privacy  Researchers/IRBs might assume everything is always public, and was meant to be  Assumes no harm could come to subjects if data is already “public”  New ethical problems…  Ignores contextual nature of sharing  Fails to recognize the strict dichotomy of public/private doesn’t apply in the 2.0 world  Need to track if ToS/architecture have changed, or if users even understand what is available to researchersNissenbaum, H. 2011. “Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life”
  20. 20. Conceptual Gap: Anonymity vs. Identifiability  Presumption that stripping names & other obvious identifiers provides sufficient anonymity  Assumes only PII allows re-identification  New ethical problems…  Ignores how anything can potentially identifiable information and become the “missing link” to re- identify an entire dataset  “Anonymous” datasets are not achievable and provides false sense of protection  But how can we share data safely?Ohm, P. “Broken promises of privacy: Responding to the surprising failure of anonymization.” UCLA Law Review
  21. 21. Conceptual Gap: Consent Presumption that because something is shared or available without a password, the subject is consenting to it being harvested for research  Assumes no harm can come from use of data already shared with friends or other contextually-bound circles New ethical problems…  Must recognize that a user making something public online comes with a set of assumptions/expectations about who can access and how  Does anything outside this need specific consent?  Must recognize how research methods might allow un-anticipated access to “restricted” data
  22. 22. Conceptual Gap: Harm Presumption that “harm” means risk of physical or tangible impact on subject  Researchers often imply “data is already public, so what harm could possibly happen” New ethical problems  Must move beyond the concept of harm as requiring a tangible consequence  Protecting from harm is more than protecting from hackers, spammers, identity thieves, etc  Consider dignity/autonomy theories of harm  Must a “wrong” occur for there to be damage to the subject?  Do subjects deserve control over the use of their data streams?
  23. 23. Conceptual Gap: Human Subjects  Researchers (esp. CompSci) often interact only with datasets, objects, or avatars, thus feel a conceptual distance from an actual human  Often don’t consider what they do as “human subject” research  New ethical problems  Must bridge this (artificial) distance between researcher and the actual human subject  Also consider other stakeholders within the complex arrangement of information intermediariesCarpenter, K & Dittrich, D. “Bridging the Distance: Removing the Technology Buffer and Seeking Consistent EthicalAnalysis in Computer Security Research”
  24. 24. Ethical Concerns Conceptual Gaps The growing use of social media tools, platforms & environments illuminate particular ethical concerns for researchers:  Privacy  Anonymity vs. Identifiability  Consent  Harm & Human subjects And present us new conceptual gaps on how to apply existing research ethics policies
  25. 25. Conceptual Gaps  Policy Vacuums Researchers & IRBs are trying to do the right thing when faced with research projects relying on Internet tools and spaces But the fluidity and complexity of Internet tools and environments creates significant conceptual gaps Leaving researchers & IRBs with considerable policy vacuums  How should researchers deal with using Internet tools in their projects?  How should IRBs review them? And how can we still ensure research still gets done…
  26. 26. Removing the gaps, filling the vacuums Scholarship  Buchanan & Ess studying how IRBs deal with Internet research  Exploring new dimensions of Internet research ethics by Markham; Soghoian; Carpenter & Dittrich; and others (cited within) Resources  “Internet Research Ethics Digital Library, Resource Center and Commons” www.InternetResearchEthics.org  “Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee”
  27. 27. Removing the gaps, filling the vacuums Education & outreach  Growing focus at PRIM&R and related events  Engage disciplinary conferences (ACM, ICA, SOUPS, etc) Policy guidance  Advising SACHRP on “The Internet in Human Subjects Research”  Require Internet Research Ethics training for all IRBs? For researchers?
  28. 28. New Media, New Ethics: How Social Media-based Research Demands New Attentionto Research Ethics Michael Zimmer, PhD Assistant Professor, School of Information Studies Director, Center for Information Policy Research University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee zimmerm@uwm.edu www.michaelzimmer.org

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