Social media in research: copyright and citation

Research and Innovation Development Office

Category: Research news

3 March 2016

We recently discussed the usefulness of social media in research for dissemination and public engagement, as well as developing your researcher profile. However, when it comes to citing social media in research projects, oftentimes these tools are taken up too rapidly for our traditional laws and processes to catch up.

This can make clear guidance difficult to find, let alone follow. When this happens, it is wise to stop for a tic and review what resources we do have, in efforts to settle on a common interpretation.

For example, when using a screenshot or embedded tweet in a journal article or report, publisher Taylor & Francis states that you must contact the "author" of the tweet to seek permission, referencing the Twitter Terms of Service.

This is all well and good, but a conflict arises should an academic need to maintain confidentiality of a participant in a study, but also wants to reference a tweet they've composed. A recent study from NatCen Social Research suggests that in this case, while it is always best practice to ask the participant's permission to use the tweet, you could also test the traceability of a tweet or post (i.e. perform a search of both the whole and partial text) and take responsible steps to inform the user and to protect their identity, if desired. Other options include paraphrasing instead of quoting the tweet verbatim or using partial quotes but no handle/username. In a more prescriptive move, researchers might consider building the risk of maintaining confidentiality into the recruitment process, by approaching possible participants over the platform being used in the research, being transparent in recruitment materials, and explicitly stating the security and privacy terms in recruitment materials of the platform the research will involve.

The conversation surrounding these processes, much like the tools concerned, is ever-evolving. If you're an ARU academic performing research involving social media and have stumbled across an conundrum like the above, please feel free to reach out to the ARU Research Services Team, or the ARU Library Research Support Librarian, Ian Walker. Together we can sort it out!


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