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Dec 3 / Erin Vader

Social Media Research Raises Privacy and Ethical Concerns

Written by Jessica Judd

Cyber footprints left behind using social media and search engines on the Internet raise concerns with privacy and ethical issues.  Every search conducted on the Internet and every post made on Facebook can be monitored by anyone (Jayson, 2014). Cyber footprints are being left, which aids in social media research.  Although, personal information should be kept private, users should be weary as their information may be used for research purposes.  Between every search on Google or every post on Facebook, social media is in the spotlight as a cause for privacy concerns.

Ways in which social media has raised privacy and ethics issues include the big company of Microsoft, which has been able to identify women at risk of postpartum depression.  How they have done this, you may ask.  Through online communication, researchers have gathered data, meaning those cyber footprints that have been left behind from searching on the Internet, have been gathered and analyzed by researchers for their studies.  Facebook is another example of what could be considered a privacy concern.  Facebook has been able to study how parents and their children interact.

These issues have been in the spotlight recently.  Social and personality psychologist “…gathered to concentrate on what’s ahead amid concerns that some users of these sites may not like that their behavior is under the microscope” (Jayson, 2014).  Social psychologist Ilka Gleibs said, “Be aware it is a space that is watched.”  Gleibs study exists in the journal Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, where she talks about social networking sites for research field studies.  The study makes note that “Facebook is transformed from a public space to a behavioral laboratory” (Jayson, 2014). This statement comes from a project of 1,700 college-based Facebook users.  Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer says that privacy is a big issue for the research world.  Researchers have access to users’ posts and in Facebook’s privacy policy, they point out that what is yours on Facebook, is kept private.  This is a big privacy concern as Facebook is saying one thing and researchers are able to do another; however, users can be more at ease according to a statement by attorney and privacy expert, Parry Aftab.  Aftab says, “The sites will never provide personally identifiable information unless they have the consent of the users.  And there is legal recourse if they’re using it in any other way.”  Researchers on the other hand, must be cautious when accessing users’ data, as not all data is accurate and it is easy to misinterpret data.

These privacy concerns and ethics issues stem from researchers being able to follow in users footsteps online and collect data based on how they are interacting.  These issues are still being closely looked at, but Internet users should be aware that it is possible for information to be leaked in order for researchers to gather data and perform a research study.


Jayson, S. (March 12, 2014). Social media research raises privacy and ethics

issues. USA Today. Retrieved from