Increasingly people are sharing personal information on publicly accessible social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Consequently, researcher interest in using social media data is increasing as this data provides important and real time insights into the full gamut of human interests, including insights into health and wellbeing that may promote knowledge that is of public interest. The dynamic nature of social media data can prove beneficial for society; for example, being able to study trends in human activity that could result in timely and effective public health intervention and promotion.
Many researchers assume the use of such ‘public’ data is ethically unproblematic, as the person posting has freely chosen to place their views into the public domain. However, the use of social media data in research can present unique ethical concerns for researchers, institutions, and the ethics committees that are tasked with ensuring that research projects are conducted in line with accepted standards of ethical practice.
This paper discusses the ethical use of social media data in research, drawing on advice provided in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 (Updated 2018), the Griffith University Research Ethics Manual, social media platform policies, privacy legislation and the latest academic literature. It will also consider the differences in types of ‘publication’ and outline practical approaches to seeking consent to research which draws upon social media data collected across a range of popular social media platforms for use in research which is of public benefit.