Social Media - Ethics, methods and web archiving

Over the past decade, social media have become mainstream, an integral part of the communicative repertoire of public and private organizations and of the everyday lives of ordinary people. As we use them, we leave an array of digital data - click-through patterns, likes, profile information, social networks, communicative actions, etc. – which may be leveraged by commercial, government and other actors for service development, surveillance, and profit. Such data are equally valuable for researchers trying to understand how social media shape communication practices, professional and personal relationships, identities and so on.

Social media data may be collected, for instance, through digital software tools that access the APIs of social media services, process the data and organise it into neat social media archives. While presenting a new resource for empirical scholarship, digital data and archiving tools involve epistemological, methodological as well as ethical challenges that continuously emerge in my research on how ordinary people use social media: what do social media data trails represent? Who is represented? To what extent are APIs a reliable entry point for data collection? What are the ethical implications of harvesting people's data trails and how do we handle issues of privacy, beneficence, and risk in social media research?