Computational social scientists are increasingly collecting social media data in ways that raise ethical issues which standard review processes are unable to address. This is especially prevalent in the case of digital field experiments; yet, despite increasing public scrutiny there is limited evidence around user attitudes and few best practices. To address this, our principal focus is to report on how public expectations align with the actual uses of their data and how they compare to researchers’ own views. Additionally, we aim to devise preliminary ethical guidelines that can be readily adopted. Our study will cover three main topics: Public awareness of the use of social media data for research, public attitudes towards digital field experiments, and public attitudes regarding research ethics. In contrast to prior work covering observational methods (e.g. Fiesler et al. 2018), our study is novel in focusing exclusively on the ethics of running experiments that involve actively interacting with (or deceiving) social media users. We expect attitudes towards online experiments to be highly contextual, differing, for instance, on how the research is conducted and disseminated. We hope that our exploratory work will inform the development of standardized, evidence-based guidelines for conducting ethically-sound field experiments online.
Research Assistant, Institute of Biology, Humboldt University of Berlin