An initial exploration of ethical research practices regarding automated data extraction from online social media user profiles


  • Sophia Alim Independent Researcher



Research Ethics, Automated Data Extraction, Social Media


The popularity of social media, especially online social networks, has led to the availability of potentially rich sources of data, which researchers can use for extraction via automated means. However, the process of automated extraction from user profiles results in a variety of ethical considerations and challenges for researchers. This paper examines this question further, surveying researchers to gain information regarding their experiences of, and thoughts about, the challenges to ethical research practices associated with automated extraction. Results indicated that, in comparison with two or three years ago researchers are more aware of ethical research practices, and are implementing them into their studies. However, areas such as informed consent suffer from a lack of implementation in research studies. This is due to various factors, such as social media ‘Terms of Service’, challenges with large volumes of data, how far to take informed consent, and the definition of online informed consent. Researchers face a range of issues from digital rights to clear guidance. This paper discusses the findings of the survey questionnaire and explores how the findings affect researchers.

Author Biography

Sophia Alim, Independent Researcher


Sophia Alim is an administrator at Barnardos, a charity helping vulnerable young people, based in the United Kingdom. She is also an independent researcher in the field of social research ethics involving automated data extraction from social media platforms. Sophia Alim has a PhD from the University of Bradford in the area of online social networks and privacy. Her research focused on calculating the vulnerability of online social network profiles in terms of information-disclosing behaviour of a profile owner and the owner’s friends. In 2006, she was awarded a BSc (Hons) in Business Information Systems from the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. In 2007, she received her MSc in Computing from the University of Bradford. Her research interests include Web accessibility and social networking.





How to Cite

Alim, S. (2014). An initial exploration of ethical research practices regarding automated data extraction from online social media user profiles. First Monday, 19(7).