Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Why design matters in social media research ethics

Curtis Jessop is a Senior Researcher at NatCen Social Research and is the Network Lead for the NSMNSS network

I’m playing catch-up a little bit here, but thought I’d share some thoughts on a presentation from Professor Woodrow Hartzog (slides here) at an ethics symposium I attended on 19th July hosted by the Web Science Institute.

The presentation focussed on the ethics of how our data are collected online, arguing that insufficient attention is paid to the design of information technology. Giving a number of examples of how IT had failed ethically at a design stage, Professor Hartzog challenged the idea that ‘there are no bad technologies, only bad users’, asserting that there is no such thing as neutral design.

Following this thought, he suggested that the principle of giving users control (e.g. over privacy settings) does not reflect how people actually use technology and can be overwhelming (managing all settings for all accounts), or even manipulated to disguise/protect true intentions. This principle puts too much onus on the user, when the responsibility should lie with the designers.

I think this is an under-considered area in ethics of social media research. When we think about ‘data collection’, we are more likely to think about how we get the data out of its original context, but there is of course a stage before that: when the data was collected by the original platform. As researchers we are unlikely to have control over the design of our ‘data source’, but to what extent should we be considering it?

My second thought was that a lot of these principles translate over to research ethics – the design of a methodology is not neutral, and giving research participants control is not necessarily sufficient (or appropriate). As researchers the onus should be on us to ensure the design is ethically sound and protects the participant’s interests.

Overall, this event felt to me more rooted in data science than social science; in the advance materials I received for this event, it was suggested that ‘Principles of informed consent and anonymity in this environment are no longer the answer’ and I can’t say I’m convinced of that. However, given the often necessarily inter-disciplinary nature of social media research, it is important that these perspectives are included and this did give me plenty to think about.

I should also say that the second keynote given by Professor Mireille Hildebrandt (slides here) which looked at the ethics of data-sharing through philosophical and legal lenses was excellent, as was the panel discussion in between. For more information on the event, have a look here, and there are a couple of other blogs from the event here and here


  1. Thank you for sharing of information for me. If you are interested in the services we are offering, I would like to share with you some information about our services, such as: In the wedding invitation in Hanoi (In thiệp cưới tại hà nội), canvas printing workshop in Hanoi cheapest (xưởng in bạt giá rẻ nhất tại hà nội), on-demand printing wedding invitation (in thiệp cưới theo yêu cầu), accessories, kitchen cabinet (phụ kiện tủ bếp), stainless steel kitchen cabinets (tủ kho inox nhà bếp), the price upside down bowl smart (giá úp bát thông minh), door mosquito netting good sort (cửa lưới chống muỗi loại nào tốt), installation of door nets mosquito (lắp đặt cửa lưới chống muỗi), self-rolling mosquito screen door (cửa lưới chống muỗi tự cuốn), mosquito net door (cửa lưới chống muỗi), printed packaging (in bao bì), the following processing in (Gia công sau in), printed T services in Hanoi (dịch vụ in áo tại hà nội), cheap printing company in Ha internal (công ty in giá rẻ tại hà nội), glass staircase (cầu thang kính), iron staircase (cầu thang sắt), stainless steel staircase (cầu thang inox), see feng shui (xem phong thủy), negative feng shui Trach (phong thủy âm trạch), named for the feng shui (phong thủy đặt tên cho con) and repair imac in Hanoi (sửa chữa imac tại hà nội).

  2. There are various companies which provide world class internet marketing services. If you want to design or re-design your website, then you should consult one of the most renowned website designing companies.

    Thank you for your service to the open source community and society in general!

  3. Well written and very well executed blog with very useful information shared by you, I am always in search of these kind of information and blogs for my self.
    Keep up with the good work.
    Thanks for sharing it.
    Trend Fashion

  4. Well written and very well executed blog with very useful information shared by you, I am always in search of these kind of information and blogs for my self.
    Thanks for sharing it.
    Accessories News

  5. We Welcome are always deliver orggsatisfy InJaipur Escort Service Sensual and erotic escorts services,The top Independent Jaipur escorts agency offers Jaipur Call Girls dorgner and event companions, role play, fantasy fulfillment, overnights Escort org Jaipur bachelor parties and travel companions.

    Jaipur Escort Service
    Escort In Jaipur
    Jaipur Call Girls

    jaipur Escort
    Escort In jaipur
    jaipur Call Girls

  6. I agree to your thoughts and also think that the personal touch in a blog is an essential factor and that comes when the blog owner is really passionate about providing content and helping others.
    Social Media Marketing Expert in Islamabad

  7. Superb. I really enjoyed very much with this article here. Really it is an amazing article I had ever read. I hope it will help a lot for all. Thanks

    SEO Services in Philadelphia
    Social Media Marketing Philadelphia

  8. Nice post !! No doubt SEO is increasing day by day. It is a best source for reaching one way to another way. Thanks for sharing this update
    Social Media Marketing Expert in Islamabad

  9. Yes i am totally agreed with this article and i just want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. You made a good point but I can't help but wonder, what about the other side? !!!!!!Thanks Edkent Media