Talk. Social network data: What can I do with it ?

I’ve been working on online political campaigning in France and the UK for some years now, and like many of us, had to start paying attention to what was happening on social networks at election time. To try and enable post facto analysis of data collected on Facebook and Twitter, I worked with computer scientists to build a searchable database from Facebook posts and tweets from a selection of candidates to the 2014 elections to the European Parliament. Along the way, we encountered technical difficulties but also ethical and legal ones.

From what information we could gather, databases seem to be officially regulated by two main regimes: copyright laws regarding their ownership and exploitation, and personal data protection laws, applicable when databases contain information on an identifiable subject which is the case here with political candidates. However, finding out precisely how those regimes apply in the case of data collected on social networks was a major challenge.

This session would therefore aim to discuss such issues with researchers involved in similar projects or considering doing so to address questions like the following :

  • Who owns the data published on social networks ? Companies like Facebook ? Individuals who share contents ? Both, as Facebook users, for example, grant the company a non-exclusive cession of copyrights?
  • Does it depend on the privacy settings chosen by users ? On the platform used ? On the type of data ?
  • Which legislation applies ? That of the country where the platform is operated ? That of the individuals who share contents ? That of the researcher using the data ?
  • What about potential solutions to enable researchers to use the data legally ? For instance anonymizing datasets ? Getting ‘prior consent’ ? Buying the data ?

Aaaand, that’s a lot of questions !! Maybe several sessions ? Or just one for a specific question ?


Categories: Session: Talk |

About Geraldine Castel

I'm an associate professor at Grenoble Alpes university in France. I worked for my PhD on the communication strategies of the British Labour party in the 20th century and this led me to the contemporary period and online campaigning. Whether this makes me a 'digital humanist' is a question I'll stay away from but suffice to say I'm interested in the technical, methodological and ethical issues born from the interaction between humanities' research and technology. And I'm very much willing to share ideas and learn in this area (and others!).

2 Responses to Talk. Social network data: What can I do with it ?

  1. Karen Watson says:

    This is interesting. I heard the researcher who recently discovered new work by Sylvia Plath ( talking on Radio 4 about sitting in the reading room in the Archive, taking pictures of the documents and using Whatapp to send them to her research partner and they worked on the document together in real time. She said it was like having him in the room. I’m not sure that’s allowed under copyright as I’m pretty sure the deal would have been to take images for private research only – not sharing /making another copy. And does whatapp own that copy? And clearly no one thinks it’s a problem or it wouldn’t have been talked about on Radio 4 in passing.

  2. Geraldine says:

    Thanks Karen ! Yes, I think there’s really something here. Who hasn’t made photocopies of various documents in libraries in the past to work on them ? We all knew there were probably copyright issues involved somewhere but librarians were ok with it, so were journals if articles were written based on this material. Yet with digital data, this seems far less straightforward. We could share ideas about why we think this might be the case ?

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