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‘Grey Areas’: Ethical challenges posed by social media-enabled recruitment and online data collection in cross-border, social science research

Bamdad, Sara, Finaughty, Devin A., Johns, Sarah E. (2022) ‘Grey Areas’: Ethical challenges posed by social media-enabled recruitment and online data collection in cross-border, social science research. Research Ethics, 18 (1). pp. 24-38. ISSN 1747-0161. E-ISSN 2047-6094. (KAR id:90080)


Are social science, cross-border research projects, where recruitment and data collection are carried out remotely (e.g. through social media and online platforms), required to follow similar ethical and data-sharing procedures as ‘on-the-ground’ studies that use traditional means of recruitment and participant engagement? This article reflects on our experience of dealing with this question when we (multi-national but UK based researchers) had to switch to online data collection due to the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the inability to travel or work in person with local communities and collaborators. Using social media platforms and online data collection when conducting research brings many advantages, such as being able to communicate remotely but directly with gatekeepers and collaborators, and in reaching potential participants on a global scale. However, neither the guidelines and advice for conducting ethically sound internet-based research, nor the academic literature focussed on building equitable research partnerships between the Global North and the Global South, offer much information regarding the ethical concerns, or address the grey areas, posed by this type of digital and distanced transnational research. In our experience, conducting research remotely made negotiations of access very challenging due to the politics of positionality between Global North and South researchers, lack of clarity on ethical processes and (mis)perceptions of gatekeepers who we could not meet in person. We hope the reflections on, and discussion of, our experience encourage deliberation on the present ethical challenges posed by online and social-media-disseminated data collection, particularly in cross-border circumstances.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: Online research, Cross-border research, Global North, Global South, Gatekeepers, Data protection, Social media-enabled recruitment, Ethical challenges, COVID-19, Transnational
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Sarah Johns
Date Deposited: 08 Sep 2021 12:48 UTC
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2022 15:56 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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