SSRC Works with Facebook To Make Data Available for Ethically Responsible Research

Dr. Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and a member of HASTAC’s Council of Advisors, today announced a crucial new initiative to study, with responsible and ethical practices, social media data.  Congratulations and gratitude to SSRC for taking this crucially important step.  

Speaking personally: I’m less excited about researchers studying the Facebook data than about the process, especially what it means to have serious researchers who know human subject responsibilities and good conduct addressing currently unregulated world of autonomous/semi-autonomous data mining, selling, and (mis)use.

We have other kinds of processes and guidelines for the ethical use of human subjects by researchers. But algorithms and the writers of algorithms and those who misuse big data have, to date, not been held accountable.  Who is responsible? What is responsible and ethical conduct? What are the safe rules for collecting data? For using it?

This is a major first step for “ethical tech” and “algorithmic accountability” for big data, including social media data.  The New York City Council’s taskforce on algorithmic accountability said, a year ago, that Silicon Valley is the site of tech; NYC should be the site of “ethical tech.”   Mozilla, too, has been arguing for a new responsibility, licensing, and regulating of data use.  

Clearly, this is a movement.  We all need to be involved, starting with our own technologies in higher education (thank you for all your work on this, Audrey Watters) and going far beyond.  Let’s get started!

Here’s the statement from SSRC: 

Statement from SSRC President Alondra Nelson on the Social Data Initiative:

“Recent revelations about the abuse of Facebook data and spread of disinformation make clear that social media can have negative ramifications for society. Today the SSRC begins an extraordinary Social Data Initiative at the frontiers of digital culture to examine the problem, explore questions about the responsible use of social network data, and generate insights to inform solutions.”


You can read the whole report here ( )