Tinder research raises ethical worries for academics

Interviewees on dating app who wanted to be ‘used for academic purposes’ highlight the difficulties of using new technology for research

March 30, 2016
Person using Tinder on Apple iPhone smartphone
Source: Alamy

Using social media for academic research is throwing up awkward ethical issues for social scientists, a conference has heard.

With huge amounts of personal information posted on Twitter, Facebook and other sites each day, social media platforms may seem like a treasure trove of potential data for researchers, the Academy of Social Sciences event, titled “Social Media & Social Science Research Ethics”, on 21 March, was told.

But researchers wishing to use these popular sites as data sources must negotiate a difficult set of new ethical considerations not previously encountered by academia, many scholars explained.

“It’s very hard to fit these kinds of problems into the traditional ethics boxes,” said Jenna Condie, lecturer in digital research and online social analysis at Western Sydney University, who is investigating how the dating app Tinder has changed how tourists travel when visiting Australia.

Dr Condie told the event in London how she and her research collaborators had managed to interview “Tinder tourists” in Sydney by signing up to the app.

However, despite explaining the nature of their approach, many Tinder users may have had something different in mind when they responded to interview requests, Dr Condie said.

“I am so ready to be used for academic purposes” was one message received by a researcher, she said, adding that this type of interaction raised “issues around personal and professional boundaries”.

“You also have to log in through your Facebook account, allowing access to pictures, so there are issues around that,” Dr Condie added.

Tinder’s terms of service, which bar any sort of data mining, are also a potential problem, she explained.

However, Condie, who is leading the project alongside Garth Lean, lecturer in geography and urban studies at Western Sydney, believed the scraping and interpretation of accessible material by academics would be allowed by Tinder as this activity was not commercially driven, she said.

The use of Twitter within research was another issue debated at the conference, which heard how some academics regarded the incorporation of user names and tweets in papers as “fair game”.

One sociology professor felt material posted online could be used in publications without consent as such tweets were “no different to if you had written a letter to a newspaper”, said Susan Halford, director of the University of Southampton’s Web Science Institute.

But several research projects at Southampton instead decided to use tweets “only in anonymised form”, she added.

That came despite concerns that “irreversible anonymisation is nigh on impossible” given that emerging new web tools may make recognition possible, she added.

Handling issues of consent was also tricky when using Facebook as a data source, explained Gill Mooney, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, who is using it to examine conceptions of class.

“I want to use screenshots in my research, PhD and possibly in publications,” said Ms Mooney.

However, this would mean obtaining consent from anyone featuring in a post – either in pictures, the main body or comments – before using the information, she said.

jack.grove@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

Related universities

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Clerical Exam & Assessment Officer UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH
Professor in Music and Performance UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES
Professor in Design UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES
Professor of Storytelling UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job

Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016

Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest