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The Ethics Ecosystem: Personal Ethics, Network Governance and Regulating Actors Governing the Use of Social Media Research Data

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>7/02/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Minerva
Number of pages27
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date7/02/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This paper examines the consequences of a culture of “personal ethics” when using new methodologies, such as the use of social media (SM) sites as a source of data for research. Using SM research as an example, this paper explores the practices of a number of actors and researchers within the “Ethics Ecosystem” which as a network governs ethically responsible research behaviour. In the case of SM research, the ethical use of this data is currently in dispute, as even though it is seemingly publically available, concerns relating to privacy, vulnerability, potential harm and consent blur the lines of responsible ethical research behaviour. The findings point to the dominance of a personal, bottom-up, researcher-led, ‘ethical barometer’ for making decisions regarding the permissibility of using SM data. We show that the use of different barometers by different researchers can lead to wide disparities in ethical practice - disparities which are compounded by the lack of firm guidelines for responsible practice of SM research. This has widespread consequences on the development of shared norms and understandings at all levels, and by all actors within the Ethics Ecosystem, and risks inconsistencies in their approaches to ethical decision-making. This paper argues that this governance of ethical behaviour by individual researchers perpetuates a negative cycle of academic practice that is dependent on subjective judgements by researchers themselves, rather than governed by more formalised academic institutions such as the research ethics committee and funding council guidelines.