Turning Virtual Public Spaces into Laboratories: Thoughts on Conducting Online Field Studies Using Social Network Sites

Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (Impact Factor: 1.64). 10/2013; 14(1). DOI: 10.1111/asap.12036


This article deals with the topic of ethics in large-scale online studies on social network sides. ‘Big data’ and large-scale online field studies are a relatively new phenomenon and clear ethical guidelines for social science research are still lacking. In this paper I focus on the ethical question of getting informed consent when we collect data from Social Network Sites (SNS). I argue 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), I further propose that this is because the norms of distribution and appropriateness are violated when researchers manipulate online contexts and collect data without consent. Finally, I make suggestions for existing and possible future practices for large-scale online studies.

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Available from: Ilka Helene Gleibs,
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    • "Consequently, a formal declaration of ethical research guidelines for private corporations is necessary. For instance, as Gleibs (2014) notes, Bond et al. (2012) had to justify the omission of participant informed consent to their university's IRB (Gleibs, 2014). Facebook is not subject to similar regulation. "
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    ABSTRACT: Social networking sites (SNS) provide researchers with an unprecedented amount of user derived personal information. This wealth of information can be invaluable for research purposes. However, the privacy of the SNS user must be protected from both public and private researchers. New research capabilities raise new ethical concerns. We argue that past research regulation has largely been in reaction to questionable research practices, and therefore new innovations need to be regulated before SNS users’ privacy is irreparably compromised. It is the responsibility of the academic community to start this ethical discourse.
    Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 12/2014; 14(1):374-378. DOI:10.1111/asap.12055 · 1.64 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Purpose – The paper aims at a multi-faceted review of scholarly work, analyzing the current state of empirical studies dealing with privacy and online social networking (OSN) as well as the theoretical “puzzle” of privacy approaches related to OSN usage from the background of diverse disciplines. Drawing on a more pragmatic and practical level, aspects of privacy management are presented as well. Design/methodology/approach – Based on individual privacy concerns and also publicly communicated threats, information privacy has become an important topic of public and scholarly discussion. Beside diverse positive aspects of OSN sites for users, their information is for example also being used for data mining and profiling, pre-recruiting information as well as economic espionage. This review highlights information privacy mainly from an individual point-of-view, focusing on the usage of OSN sites (OSNs). Findings – This analysis of scholarly work shows the following findings: first, adults seem to be more concerned about potential privacy threats than younger users; second, policy makers should be alarmed by a large part of users who underestimate risks of their information privacy on OSNs; third, in the case of using OSNs and its services, traditional one-dimensional privacy approaches fall short. Hence, findings of this paper further highlight the necessity to focus on multidimensional and multidisciplinary frameworks of privacy, for example considering a so-called “privacy calculus paradigm” and rethinking “fair information practices” from a more and more ubiquitous environment of OSNs. Originality/value – The results of the work presented in this paper give new opportunities for research as well as suggestions for privacy management issues for OSN providers and users.
    Internet Research 08/2011; 21(4). DOI:10.1108/10662241111158290 · 1.66 Impact Factor