Unconference Critique Digitale

Panel 5, Session 1 Lausanne

Do., 22.10.21, 12.00 - 12.45

Title: Lorenz \& Berg: Social Media as a source for research (ethical, technical, legal)

Andrea Lorenz and Mia Berg guided this panel which centred on the thorny questions of social media as a source for research. The panel comprised participants from different backgrounds such as history, anthropology, sociology, and computer Science.

The guiding line comes from the current research of Andrea and Mia. Both are historians working together on historical representations on Instagram and TikTok. We examined the ethical, technical and legal questions. The main issue comes from the fact that there is not really a well-established code of practice to research social media, and especially across disciplines. The participants mentioned that in their respective disciplines, there is still uncertainty, especially for audiovisual social media.

This reflected in the discussion of consent and anonymisation. Some researchers provide different answers according the content and to the public. Is it necessary to request consent on a public posts? What is a public posts? Some suggestions to draw the line were whether the post is made public itself, the requests for sharing, the use of tag etc. The issues acquires a new dimension once we add subjects that require an added layer of protection, such as children.

In what concerns anonymisation, its employment is considered as a standard, but for social media users that are influencers, one of the participants mentioned that the influencers requested their names to be visible.

In this sense, the group also discussed their own position as researchers in a larger context of digital capitalism and immersed in an algorithmic structure. Research framing should also take in consideration the position of the researchers as observers but also as part of this system, and the contrasting features in case of critique of the digital turn. This also has implications with the form of construction of the data, which is a form of co-production, and part of the structure of web 2.0. This is particularly relevant for contemporary history research, where the narratives are competing and coming from multiple sources..

The discussion followed with the regards of the non-users and the extrapolation of narratives of social media to the whole of society. Results and affirmations should take this with a grain of salt, and on the other hand, with the fact that even non-users are somewhat datafied by the lenses and narratives of the users. The advent of social media brought tensions with historic search, on the issue that the narratives are co-interpreted and co-produced.


Andrea Lorenz (CV)

Mia Berg (CV)

This panel is mainly about questions. Both are historians and working (historical representations on IG and TikTok), initially conceptualised as history, and now is trying to connect with digital humanities and computer sciences. They are working with citizen sciences, and many of them marginalised groups. https://smh.blogs.uni-hamburg.de/

Social Media - There is really a not well established code of practice to research it, at least across disciplines and especially history. Audiovisual social media, it is only marginally explored. It is important to discuss it, especially in view of discussion of contemporary history.

We start with sharing a bit about our backgrounds.

  1. Data collection and archiving

  2. Research ethics

For instance, for vulnerable populations such as a children, is a “public” video enough for consent?

The question of anonymisation is important. Some researchers even go as far to publish the profile of IG users. Claudia presents another side, where, when asking if the users want to be anonymised, they often require not to be, because of they want to become visible

The issue with history research is that it is often necessary to quote everything and everyone, but the participants agree that anonymisation is the a necessary measure.

The discussion is focused on audiovisual social media. In youtube comments for instance, they can add their real names

It’s important to reflect on the frame of the research, and the methodological framework.

We are part of the algorithmic structure and influenced by the decisions we made in our internet life.

Our standing as researchers, as observers, and we need to reflect about our position, and in regards to the capitalist structure of the internet, of the algorithmic systems, all while our position is critical in terms of that structure.

Regarding consent, we also have to keep in mind and ask if it is okay for the users/“research subjects” that the article/paper is published 3 or 4 years later

The advent of social media brought tensions with historic search, on the issue that the narratives are co-interpreted and co-produced.

We should not forgot that we can’t transplant what happens in social media to the whole society. Social Media users are part of Society, but doesn’t correspond to the totum. We can’t claim is representative

However, in Social Media, even the non-users are present somehow, through the lenses of users, the narratives of the users. The borders of the Digital world and the mundane world are also falling.

Phillip Sormani presents an anecdoctal case about use of facebook by students in secret groups and an ethnography research, and how there is an upcoming article about discussing fake ethical issues.

=> the paper is due to be published - fingers crossed - in upcoming issue of Ethnographic Studies on education (cf. ethnographicstudies.org)

=> in the meantime, here’s a quote from and resource on ethics issues in social (media) research perhaps still of interest…

‘ethical regulations and restrictions should be proportional to the scale and purpose of the research and that the ethical dimension should not prevent socially and educationally valuable research taking place’ (Coughlan and Perryman’s 2015, p. 163).

Coughlan, T., L.-A. Perryman (2015) ‘A Murky Business: Navigating the Ethics of Educational Research in Facebook Groups’. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, pp. 146–169.

Claire Balleys (University of Geneva): Research about sexuality on YouTube, using anonymisation (best practice), and public videos (when they ask to share, comments and like)

Balleys, C., Millerand, F., Thoër, C., \& Duque, N. (2020). Searching for Oneself on YouTube: Teenage Peer Socialization and Social Recognition Processes. Social Media + Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120909474

  1. Automated Analysis