Ethical issues in research using social media

Resources on the ethics of social media research


Guidance from UKRIO


  • Video: Gathering research data online: practical and ethical considerations. Dr Claire Hewson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at The Open University, shares insights about gathering research data online: practical and ethical considerations. Gathering research data online: practical and ethical considerations. – YouTube
  • Video: Social Media and Ethics. Dr Nicolas Gold, Associate Professor, University College London. The social media data landscape is complex, dynamic, and evolving. This means that it poses particular challenges to researchers wanting to undertake ethically defensible research. In this talk Dr Gold discusses these complexities, drawing out some key aspects that need to be addressed when considering the ethics of an intended investigation. He aimed to offer some principles and approaches for building ethical arguments in this space, drawing on foundational principles and recent research. He will also briefly highlight some key aspects in terms of specific platforms that may impact how researchers approach their investigations. Social Media and Ethics. – YouTube.  To view the slides click here. *Please note for these slides: Except where otherwise licenced as shown, all material is Copyright © Nicolas Gold 2024, unauthorised reproduction is prohibited, and the ingestion and use of this material for training any kind of AI or other algorithmic model is strictly prohibited.
  • Guidance document: Good practice in research: Internet-mediated research


From elsewhere


What is “social media data”?

Does it mean Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blog sites, etc., i.e. a platform that needs a user name?

Social media definitions vary, but core components are user-generated content and the possibility of many-to-many communication: Julian Hopkins. How to Define Social Media – An Academic Summary. 2017

Definitions are also described in Aichner, T., Grünfelder, M., Maurer, O., & Jegeni, D. (2021). Twenty-Five Years of Social Media: A Review of Social Media Applications and Definitions from 1994 to 2019. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 215-222.




  • The Ethics Working Committee, from the Association of Internet Researchers, has produced three major reports to assist researchers in making ethical decisions in their research, which can be found here:











A Social Media Ethics Framework from the Glasgow guide is shown below:

Further reading:


  • Hemphill, L., Schöpke-Gonzalez, A., & Panda, A. (2022). Comparative sensitivity of social media data and their acceptable use in research. Sci Data. 9(1):643. doi: 10.1038/s41597-022-01773-w


  • Mahoney, J., Le Louvier, K., Lawson, S., Bertel, D., & Ambrosetti, E. (2022). Ethical considerations in social media analytics in the context of migration: lessons learned from a Horizon 2020 project. Research Ethics18(3), 226–240.


  • Samuel, G., & Buchanan, E. (2020). Guest Editorial: Ethical Issues in Social Media Research. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 15(1-2):3-11. doi:10.1177/1556264619901215


  • Samuel, G, Derrick, G.E., & van Leeuwen, T. (2019). The Ethics Ecosystem: Personal Ethics, Network Governance and Regulating Actors Governing the Use of Social Media Research Data. Minerva. Sep;57(3):317-343. doi: 10.1007/s11024-019-09368-3


  • Takats, C., Kwan, A., Wormer, R., Goldman, D., Jones, H.E., & Romero, D. (2022). Ethical and Methodological Considerations of Twitter Data for Public Health Research: Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res. 2022 Nov 29;24(11):e40380. doi: 10.2196/40380. 


Last revised March 2024.

Please note that this list of resources is not intended to be exhaustive and should not be seen as a substitute for advice from suitably qualified persons. UKRIO is not responsible for the content of external websites linked to from this page. If you would like to seek advice from UKRIO, information on our role and remit and on how to contact us is available here.

UKRIO would like to thank our Advisory Community for their help in putting this list together.