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Public domain or private data?

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


Gemma Stevens

Victoria L. O'Donnell

Lynn Williams


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.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 30, 2015
Journal Educational research and evaluation
Print ISSN 1380-3611
Electronic ISSN 1744-4187
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Issue 2
Pages 154-167
Institution Citation STEVENS, G., O'DONNELL, V.L. and WILLIAMS, L. 2015. Public domain or private data? Developing an ethical approach to social media research in an inter-disciplinary project. Educational research and evaluation [online], 21(2), pages 154-167. Available from:
Keywords Social media research; Online ethics; Public domain; Private data; Cyberspace


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