In June 2014, the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) published results from a large-scale, psychological study on emotional contagion collected over the course of a week in 2012, on the social media platform, Facebook. In this study, Facebook randomly perturbed the news feeds of thousands of users in order to study how people respond to the emotional valences of posts on Facebook. A strong reaction from the public followed PNAS’ publishing of the research results, raising questions about the role of individual consent in massive online studies, the use of data generated by people on social media sitesfor research, and the ethical principles and laws governing the use of social media data and online content for study purposes.
Researchers Mary L. Gray, PhD, and Christian Sandvig, PhD, and Elizabeth Buchanan, PhD, discussed the Facebook emotional contagion study and focus on some of the commonly raised questions pertaining to internet and social media research. Some additional questions that presenters discussed included:
- Use of social data in research:
- How do we decide if social data is personal information, interpersonal communication, or social interaction? What are the ethical principles that accompany the framing of data in each case?
- What criteria and considerations should researchers review to determine when social data are a secondary or primary data set?
- Is it possible to bridge the gap between researchers at universities and researchers at industries using social data for scientific inquiry? What role might university-based IRBs play in supporting this bridge?
- Consent and debriefing:
- How can consent and debriefing strategies be redesigned to scale up beyond the lab or field setting to fit social data analysis?
- How do we assess minimal risk in online settings?
- How do we determine what constitutes publicly available information, communication, or social interaction vs private information, communication, or social interaction?
This intermediate-level webinar was of interest to IRB members, chairs, directors, and administrators, as well as investigators or anyone else involved in conducting or reviewing internet research.