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

Authors
  • Samuel, Gabrielle1, 2
  • Derrick, Gemma E1
  • van Leeuwen, Thed3
  • 1 Educational Research, Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation (HERE), Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YD, UK.
  • 2 Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Strand Campus, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK.
  • 3 Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Leiden University, 2300 Leiden, The Netherlands. , (Netherlands)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Minerva
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2019
Volume
57
Issue
3
Pages
317–343
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s11024-019-09368-3
PMID: 31501635
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

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.

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