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Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age

New Challenges, Cases, and Contexts

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Edited By Michael Zimmer and Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda

The continuous evolution of internet and related social media technologies and platforms have opened up vast new means for communication, socialization, expression, and collaboration. They also have provided new resources for researchers seeking to explore, observe, and measure human opinions, activities, and interactions. However, those using the internet and social media for research – and those tasked with facilitating and monitoring ethical research such as ethical review boards – are confronted with a continuously expanding set of ethical dilemmas. Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Challenges, Cases, and Contexts directly engages with these discussions and debates, and stimulates new ways to think about – and work towards resolving – the novel ethical dilemmas we face as internet and social media-based research continues to evolve. The chapters in this book – from an esteemed collection of global scholars and researchers – offer extensive reflection about current internet research ethics and suggest some important reframings of well-known concepts such as justice, privacy, consent, and research validity, as well as providing concrete case studies and emerging research contexts to learn from.

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Chapter Six: Bad Judgment, Bad Ethics?: Validity in Computational Social Media Research (Cornelius Puschmann)

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CHAPTER SIX

Bad Judgment, Bad Ethics?

Validity in Computational Social Media Research

CORNELIUS PUSCHMANN



Data quality is a key concern in empirical social science. In quantitative research paradigms, data quality reflects the ability of a variable to allow valid inferences about social processes or entities (Trochim & Donnelly, 2006, p. 20). In this chapter, I discuss the role of data quality in relation to research ethics. I frame data quality as an ethical issue (in addition to being a methodological one) because a particular set of assumptions about what data is shapes both the methodological and ethical considerations of researchers. I draw on several cases that have been critically discussed by the scientific community in relation to their operationalization, including Google Flu Trends (Carneiro & Mylonakis, 2009) and the so-called Facebook emotional contagion study (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014). I close by showing how the field is progressing in terms of both ethical and methodological considerations.

INTRODUCTION

How valid are the results of analyses that rely on the digital breadcrumbs that all of us leave behind when we use the internet? While initially this hardly seems to be a question related to ethics,1 I argue that in computational research, data quality and operationalization are equally methodological and ethical issues that impact both academia and industry research. Billions of users log on to their preferred platforms on a daily basis, generating petabytes of...

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