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An end to the wild west of social media research: a response to Axel Bruns

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Current models of data access in social media research offer clear benefits, but are also fraught in a number of ways, including by posing risks to user privacy, being constrained in terms of reliability and reproducibility of results, and incentivizing questionable and in some cases unethical research practices. I argue that partnerships between academics and industry represent one potential option for improving this situation. While no panacea, such arrangements may be able to contribute to a more rules-based and less anarchic situation in social media research, placing greater emphasis on preserving user privacy and the reproducibility of results, rather than mainly on compiling large data sets. Due to a number of recent shifts, not just in research, but in the public discourse surrounding social media platforms and user data, we are entering an era of increased institutionalization and standardization in the study of online communication. This new environment appears poised to replace the ‘Wild West of social media research’ that we have witnessed in the past, in which academics compile huge troughs of data with few constraints, not always acting in the public’s best interest.
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Keywords: APIs; Facebook; Social Science One; Social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Leibniz Institute for Media Research ∣ Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg, Germany

Publication date: September 19, 2019

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