Academic Literature

Expression in the Virtual Public: Social Justice Considerations in Harvesting Youth Online Discussions for Research Purposes

2021

Expression in the Virtual Public: Social Justice Considerations in Harvesting Youth Online Discussions for Research Purposes

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Information posted by youth in online social media contexts is regularly accessed, downloaded, integrated, and analyzed by academic researchers. The practice raises significant social justice considerations for researchers including issues of representation and equitable distribution of risks and benefits. Use of this type of data for research purposes helps to ensure representation in research of the voices of (sometimes marginalized) youth who participate in these online contexts, at times discussing issues that are also under-represented. At the same time, youth whose data are harvested are subject (often without notice or consent) to the risks associated with this research, while receiving little if any direct benefit from the work. These risks include the potential loss of online social community as well as threats to participant rights and wellbeing. This paper explores the tension between the social justice benefit of representation and considerations that would suggest caution, the latter including inequitable distribution of research-related costs and benefits, and the traditional ethics concerns of participant autonomy and privacy in the context of youth participation in online discussions. In the final section, we propose guidelines and considerations for the conduct of online social media research to assist researchers to balance and respect representational and participant rights or wellbeing considerations, especially with youth.

Burkell, J., & Regan, P. (2021). Expression in the Virtual Public: Social Justice Considerations in Harvesting Youth Online Discussions for Research Purposes. Studies in Social Justice, 15(3), 397-413. https://journals.library.brocku.ca/index.php/SSJ/article/view/2536

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