Friday, 26 February 2016

Fieldwork is haunting me, thanks to WhatsApp

Juliano Spyer (@jasper) is part of the Why We Post global research project, based at the UCL Department of Anthropology, that looks into the uses and consequences of social media. The project involved nine anthropologists, each of whom spent 15 months in communities around the world. On 29th February 2016, the first 3 books are being launched that compare the results from all the fieldsites, as well as a book on social media in England. There will also be a free online course. For more information, follow their twitter @UCLWhyWePost.

When is it that fieldwork finishes? Thanks to social media, the separation between being in the fieldsite and being in the library is becoming ever more blurred. This is true for anthropologists in general, not just those who study social media, because in many societies platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have become an important channel of interaction during fieldwork.

In a way, I have carried my fieldsite in Brazil with me back to London. I mostly keep contact through regular exchange of messages with friends from the field. But there is one case that draws me back to the position of fieldworker.

It took me a long time and a lot of effort to be trusted in the village so that people were happy to show me the content that circulates through direct or group messages on WhatsApp. I was particularly happy when one adult woman, who appeared to understood the purpose our research project and resolved to help the research by forwarding the messages she received via WhatsApp to me.

These messages allowed me a glimpse into what this part of Brazilian society – the people now called “the new middle class” – is privately talking about. However, the subjects of the videos exchanged are often distressing. In short, there is a lot of amateur sex and violence; things that are often not fun to see and that can also carry legal consequences. For instance: the recording of students violently bullying someone is a proof of a crime. This is the kind of material that can land on my phone.

While I could easily tell this informant to stop sending me this content, as a researcher, I feel it would be a pity to close this channel because I am now – thanks to informants like her – in touch with this very private social world. However the constant communication from the fieldsite does pose challenges when it comes to writing-up.

Yesterday I was considering buying a second mobile, so I can leave this one at home and only check the new content every now and then. This way I would be able to distance myself and have more control over this flow of distracting (and occasionally) disturbing content. A new phone would also assure I would retain the many textual conversations and exchanges I had with informants during field work.

But this is just an idea and I am sharing this story here also hoping to hear what others think I should do about this situation. In case you do have something to say, please use the comment area below this blog post.

Many thanks!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Ethics & Social Media Research Conference - Full programme

The full programme for our Ethics & Social Media Conference has now been announced. You can see details of session abstracts here, and register for the conference on eventbrite

1000 Conference Registration and Coffee 

1030 Keynote 1
The Ethical Disruptions of Social Media Research: tales from the field 
Professor Susan Halford (Director Web Science Institute, University of Southampton)

1130 Parallel Session 1
Session A: Ethical Practicalities (I) 

  • Using Twitter as a data source: An overview of ethical challenges. Wasim Ahmed (University of Sheffield) 
  • Ethical issues in qualitative research on Facebook. Gill Mooney (University of Leeds) 
  • The Ethics of Researching Tinder. Jenna Condie (Western Sydney University) 

Session B: Blurred Lines

  • Trying to re-focus the blurred lines between researchers and participants in social media research. Sarah Quinton (Oxford Brookes) 
  • Reconciling the Tumblr Fangirl and the Academic: Embracing the Blurred line Between Participant and Observer in Online Ethnography. Kadian Pow (Birmingham City University) 
  • Things that keep me awake at night. Milena Popova (UWE) 

Session C: Workshop Session

  • Social Media Research Ethics: Sharing Best Practice Prof. Claire Wallace and Dr. Leanne Townsend (University of Aberdeen). 

1300 Lunch 

1400 Parallel Session 2
Session D: Critical Ethical Reflections 

  • Sharing social media data – challenges and emerging solutions. Libby Bishop (UK Data Archive, University of Essex) 
  • Public vs Private: dichotomy or scale? Harry T. Dyer (UEA) 
  • iRights Youth Juries. Elvira Perez Vallejos (Nottingham) 

Session E: Ethical Practicalities (II) 

  • Gaining access to online interactions from an offline perspective: Ethical challenges faced in a study with Chilean adolescents. Paulina Ruiz (Bristol)
  • The ethics of ‘informed consent’ and the waiving of anonymity: Analysing blog texts of breast cancer bloggers’ lived experiences. Cathy Ure (Salford)
  • Public attitudes to reported instance of personal data usage #AnalyzeMyData. Ansgar Koene (Nottingham)

Session F: Panel Session: 

  • Ethical Challenges for Visual Social Media Research: Are Images Different? Dr Farida Vis, Dr Anne Burns and Alexandra Boutopoulou who are all based in the Visual Social Media Lab ( at the University of Sheffield. 

1530 Coffee 

1600 Keynote 2
Where next for #SocialEthics? 
Steven Ginnis (Head of Digital Research, Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI) and Harry Evans (Research Analyst, Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI).

1700: Closing Remarks Followed by a Wine Reception (Sponsored by Sage Publishing).