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article imageUsers of social media are unaware of how their data is used

By Tim Sandle     May 6, 2018 in Technology
Various aspects of research use social media data. This ranges from advertising to social studies that look at how communities react to major news events. Whatever the merits of the research, most social media users are unaware.
The availability of social media opens up new avenues for researchers to easily collect data, especially from sources that may have previously been difficult to access. The main data sources for researches is unsurprisingly Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, with Twitter tending to be favoured due to its immediacy – generally it’s quicker for someone to Tweet than to post a more detailed message using an alternative medium.
With Twitter it is not only live tweets that are subject to analysis, but also deleted ones. Polls of social media users reveal that most people are unaware that social media companies regularly collaborate with research centers and that permission from users is often not required. The full legalities of such activities may become clearer once the Facebook and Cambridge Analytical saga reaches the end point (see: “Facebook sends Cambridge Analytica warning to users.”)
With the Cambridge Analytica issue, some 87 million Facebook users ad their data shared with the external company. This has brought privacy, data protection and business ethics to the fore.
The gap between the perceptions of the majority of social media users and social media companies come from a piece of research from the University of Kentucky. According to lead researcher Professor Nicholas Proferes: "In light of recent events, transparency is even more important.”
The new research, reported by Laboratory Manager magazine, involved qualitative questioning of 268 individuals who were regular users of Twitter, and who only used personal accounts. The overwhelming majority of those surveyed thought that researchers were not permitted to collect and analyze public tweets.
Writing a tweet on Twitter
Writing a tweet on Twitter
MDGovpics (CC BY 2.0)
The research poses a problem of how social media companies engage with their users and neglect to explain about information flows and what can and cannot happen with data once it enters the public domain.
There are also questions for researchers themselves, as Professor Proferes states: “This raises a number of questions about how we, as researchers, should handle user content, and how we might go about informing users about research that uses their publicly available content.”
Where data is used for science, those polled were less worried then when the data is used by advertisers, perhaps reflecting a higher social standing for those in scientific research compared with those in advertising. Moreover, science researchers are typically required to run an ethics check before extracting data. However, even here consent from users is not necessarily needed.
Professor Proferes presents four things that he believes all users of other people’s social media should do:
Ask for permission if there is a reasonable way to do so.
Anonomyze identifying information when quoting tweets.
Request permission to publish the user’s identity.
Avoid using deleted content.
Proferes thinks this could be start of a new ethical guideline.
More about Social media, Data, Data privacy, databreach
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