Guidelines for the responsible use of Social Media data in research

In light of the behaviour of Cambridge Analytica and Dr Aleksandr Kogan and colleagues, it is important that ethical boundaries be set to promote the responsible use of Social Media data.

Our research has shown that researchers, HEIs, academic journals and funding bodies are yet to develop consistent guidelines and approaches towards the ethical use of social media Data. To that end, and accepting that the use of social media data for research purposes is likely to grow in prominence, we offer the following guidelines.

These guidelines are based on our research looking at the ethical governance of social media data funded by the Wellcome Trust, and are designed to allow academic bodies to reflect on ethical questions that take into account the specific capabilities and nature of social media data.

These guidelines are to act as a starting point towards developing and promoting more concrete, norms of responsible and ethical use of social media data in research by the academic community.

Further information can be found through our list of publications, and related publications on this website, or else by contacting us on, or



  1. Researchers using Social Media data should always seek formal, institutional ethical approval for their research prior to mining the data from a collaborative platform, and Research Ethics Committee members should always review such proposals.
  2. As with other big data resources such as biobanking, it must not be assumed that the notion of consent in these circumstances is the same as traditional definition of consent.
  3. Ethical decisions concerning risk to participants, consent and privacy should focus beyond traditional principles of how data is “collected” and instead concentrate of how data is being “used”, processed and with whom it is shared.
  4. Where traditional consent is not required for a piece of social media research, other forms of consent and openness must be considered to allow participants to be aware of how their data is being used.
  5. Researchers should not conduct themselves in one way as academics and another as entrepreneurs. In all situations, if a researcher is affiliated with a public funding body (such as a university), they are expected to conduct themselves in line with the highest academic standards of responsible research.