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Saturday, September 27 • 11:01 - 11:20
"Ensuring Privacy of Participants in Social Media Based Research: an Australian perspective"

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Background: Content analysis offers an effective approach to inquiring into ethical challenges in social media based research. Content from social media sites used for the small number of research studies conducted to date, taken in conjunction with the various national human research ethics guidelines, offer a means of understanding how ethical challenges of privacy and anonymity can be (and are being) addressed for responsible social media-based research.

Objective: The paper explores the ways in which privacy/anonymity of participants can be ensured in social media-based research in the Australian context. Using the notion of trust and privacy within a set of selected social media channels through which participants are recruited for specific research studies, we initially identify what is being done and analyse the effectiveness of these approaches. Subsequently, we seek to identify emerging avenues of exploration and offer strategies for enhanced efficacy.

Methods:  Content analysis was used to examine a purposive sample of ethics applications where social media had been utilised for participant recruitment. Parameters for ensuring privacy and anonymity of participants were analysed and compared against the track record of specific social media platforms on ensuring privacy and anonymity to validate the claim. In addition, we analysed parameters instituted specifically by Australian universities as well as the national Privacy Law protection measures.

Results: The content analysis uncovered challenges that need to be addressed in the Australian context, if social media-based research is to be used effectively for recruitment of research participants. This paper focuses on the Australian experience, but provides insights to the application of a similar approach in, for example, the USA, Canada or the European Union.

Conclusions:  Content analysis and information visualisation exploiting visual analytics techniques with a purposive sample, within a specific country (Australia) has provided insights that can help in understanding what is being done and what needs to be done to address the ethical challenges in social media research – initially, from an Australian perspective.  


Swatman, P.M.C. (2012). Ethical Issues in Social Networking Research. Victoria/Tasmania University Ethics Network Seminar, Deakin University, 1 August 2012, Available from: http://www.deakin.edu.au/health/research/research-downloads.php




Paula M.C. Swatman

Adjunct Professor of Information Systems, University of Tasmania
avatar for Dr. Chandana Unnithan

Dr. Chandana Unnithan

Faculty - Information Systems, Victoria University
I am a faculty member in the field of Information Systems Management with Victoria University, Australia (and also teach at Charles Darwin University). I teach IT Project management, Enterprise Business Applications, and Professional Practice. My current research focus is on social... Read More →

Saturday September 27, 2014 11:01 - 11:20
TRS 1-129 Ted Rogers School of Management

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