Improving Services — At What Cost? Examining the Ethics of Twitter Research at the Montana State University Library
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As social media use has become widespread, academic and corporate researchers have identified social networking services as sources of detailed information about people’s viewpoints and behaviors. Social media users share thoughts, have conversations, and build communities in open, online spaces, and researchers analyze social media data for a variety of purposes—from tracking the spread of disease (Lampos & Cristianini, 2010) to conducting market research (Patino, Pitta, & Quinones, 2012; Hornikx & Hendriks, 2015) to forecasting elections (Tumasjan et al., 2010). Twitter in particular has emerged as a leading platform for social media research, partly because user data from non-private Twitter accounts is openly accessible via an application programming interface (API). This case study describes research conducted by Montana State University (MSU) librarians to analyze the MSU Library’s Twitter community, and the ethical questions that we encountered over the course of the research. The case study will walk through our Twitter research at the MSU Library, and then suggest discussion questions to frame an ethical conversation surrounding social media research. We offer a number of areas of ethical inquiry that we recommend be engaged with as a cohesive whole.
Mannheimer, Sara, Scott W. H. Young, and Doralyn Rossmann. 2016. “Improving Services—At What Cost? Examining the Ethics of Twitter Research at the Montana State University Library.” Council for Big Data, Ethics, and Society.