Public domain or private data? Developing an ethical approach to social media research in an inter-disciplinary project

Gemma Stevens, Victoria L. O'Donnell, Lynn Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses the ethical issues faced in undertaking research about the role of learning in the subjective experience of chronic illness, where data were taken from social media. Drawing on psychology and education, this paper discusses the ways in which authors from these disciplines are laying the groundwork for legitimate online research by actively debating the public versus private nature of online spaces. The paper explains how this debate informed the development of an ethical approach to research. Relevant ethical guidelines and previous research are used to support the argument that individuals’ informed consent is not necessary in online contexts where data exist within the public domain, and where risk of harm to users is low. This paper provides an insight into one educational researcher's journey through the process of doing ethical social media research, and suggests ways forward for others embarking upon that same journey.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-167
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Research and Evaluation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2015


  • social media research
  • online ethics
  • public domain
  • private data
  • cyberspace

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