Social Media Data Use Needs Tighter Research Controls

Information shared on social media is being regularly used in research projects without users' consent, a study suggests. Experts have called for tighter control of the practice, with fresh guidelines needed to ensure personal data is being used appropriately. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say ethics frameworks around consent, privacy and ownership for such studies are not keeping pace with technological developments.

The plea comes as more and more social media data is used by researchers to reveal valuable insights into our behaviours, feelings and opinions.

Advances in tools to draw patterns from large datasets have opened the door to research projects that mine this deep seam of information.

Such techniques are, for example, being used to probe whether people's social media updates can predict the onset of mental health problems.

The authors found that, out of 13 sets of ethics guidelines developed or endorsed by Research Councils UK, only four explicitly mentioned the use of social media data in research.

They also analysed 156 published health studies that involved social media data and discovered that less than a third reported having made any ethical consideration of the use of personal information.

Only two of the nine studies from UK institutions made reference to RCUK recommended guidelines.

The research is published in the journal Research Ethics.

Dr Claudia Pagliari, of the University of Edinburgh's Usher Institute, said: "Our study highlights a significant gap in UK guidance on mining social media data for research purposes. Funding bodies, learned societies, research organisations and journals - in addition to the researchers themselves - all have a role to play in ensuring such research is carried out to the highest ethical standards."

"Ethics is about more than privacy in this context. Researchers may be using information that has been willingly shared in the public domain but this doesn't give them carte blanche to do as they please. Asking permission to use people's social media postings is courteous, although this may be impossible in very large studies. Treating personal information with confidentiality and respect, and avoiding its misuse for unethical purposes, are essential.

"Having good interdisciplinary guidelines and clear expectations for how these should be applied will help to improve practices."

Joanna Taylor, Claudia Pagliari.
Mining social media data: How are research sponsors and researchers addressing the ethical challenges?
Research Ethics. doi: 10.1177/1747016117738559.

Most Popular Now

Leading Health Systems Sign On to Delive…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, has announced the expanding adoption of its Population Health Management solutions with health systems across the globe, including...

Can Virtual Reality be Used to Manage Pa…

Virtual reality has emerged into popular culture with an ever-widening array of applications including clinical use in a pediatric healthcare center. Children undergo necessary yet painful and distressing medical procedures...

Free iPhone App could Guide MS Research…

For some diseases, a simple blood test is all that's needed to estimate severity or confirm a diagnosis. Not so for multiple sclerosis. No single lab test can tell doctors...

Using Social Media Big Data to Combat Pr…

Researchers at Dartmouth, Stanford University, and IBM Research, conducted a critical review of existing literature to determine whether social media big data can be used to understand communication and behavioral...

B.Braun Accelerator Call for Innovative …

B. Braun is one of the world's leading providers and manufacturers of healthcare solutions today. The company employs more than 60,000 employees in 64 countries and is looking for European...

'NHS Cyber Security Batsignal' Peer-to-P…

The two chairs of the largest independent communities of NHS digital leaders will launch the 'NHS Cyber Security Batsignal', a new peer-to-peer cyber security warning alerting system, at the first...

Giving Rookie Dads the Online Info they …

Expectant and new parents often turn to the internet for parenting prep, but it turns out that dads often don't seem to find the information they say they need about...

Artificial Intelligence to Evaluate Brai…

Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University Hospital (HUH), Finland, have developed software based on machine learning, which can independently interpret EEG signals from a premature infant...

FDA Approves Pill with Sensor that Digit…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the U.S. with a digital ingestion tracking system. Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor) has an ingestible sensor...

Philips Partners with Dutch Health Insur…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, today announced that it is collaborating with Dutch health insurer ONVZ to provide an industry first, strategic cooperation...

Social Media Data Use Needs Tighter Rese…

Information shared on social media is being regularly used in research projects without users' consent, a study suggests. Experts have called for tighter control of the practice, with fresh guidelines...