Ethically Bound Research in Social Media

With the rapid growth of social media outlets, its users have willfully shared personal information, most often unaware that in doing so they have allowed what they considered private to become public. Researchers interested in tapping into this information may ethically consider informed consent as a critical component of their scholarly work. Many social media users have not been aware that, while able to control the visibility of their profiles from particular audiences, a large amount of their information and online behavior can be accessed by plethora of third parties. As users begin to understand what has happened to the information they have shared, they face the decision to remain in or withdraw from social media outlets. Removing themselves, however, represents letting go of the many social benefits they have taken advantage of, have learned to rely on, and dearly appreciate. It is true that social media outlets have brought people together across time and space: some have been able to reconnect with family members who reside overseas while others have maintained or rekindled their childhood friendships. In addition, social media has also united people with common professional and political interests, building brands and developing activism. This is, indeed, what social media outlets promised its users- the possibility to unite.  However, unity does not always assure progress. Through social media, the opportunity to limit our networks is easily at hand and we are encouraged by social media outlets to take it. In doing so, we limit our exposure to points of view that differ from ours. We do not allow ourselves to teach and learn from one another. We do not submit to another’s point of view. We do not take responsibility for what is said. We do not discern what another person is thinking or feeling. We do not consider irrational realities and painful truths. By limiting our own networks and by receiving information that is tailored to our behavior, our understanding of the world becomes restricted. Part of making social media more social is accepting that we learn from those who think differently from us. To achieve this we need to engage with the world and all its variety, its diversity, its complexity, its irrationality. Social media instead, as it stands now, restricts our opportunity to face the world as it is and learn from one another. We are asked to share what we think without learning how to think about what we say. We are asked to share content with others, without understanding the true content of others. With that in mind, as researchers analyze social media data they need to consider not only the inner workings of these outlets but understand the importance of seeking informed consent from social media users. On one end, researchers should reflect on the frameworks and controls that exist within social media outlets, which regulate how content moves across the platforms. We know, for example, that content shown to people on many social media outlets is filtered and targeted to feed their interests. Many times, content with erroneous information is widely shared because it feeds into the particular beliefs of individuals. On the other hand, the removal of content, which does not mean to be violent or spread hate, is frequent under a system that constantly fails to accurately regulate what people say. Perhaps, only people are able to regulate one another, not algorithms and artificial intelligence. Before researchers access the data provided by social media, they must understand how that data came to be and under what circumstances it is allowed to exist. They need to understand what data was erased from the system, what data was ignored within the system, what data is not able to be retrieved by the system, what data was manipulated by what entities, what data has been misused or abused and for what purposes, what data was duplicated or impersonated, what data is reported and which is not, what statistical errors may there be when presented with this data, what questions does this data actually answer, how do we validate and replicate the results drawn from this data, etc. Researchers may want to reflect on the ways in which they can unintentionally reach manipulated, inexact and false results when delving into a dataset whose formation and regulation they do not fully understand.  On the other end, researchers must keep in mind informed consent and anonymity. First, some users are not aware that their content is indeed public, others’ views on what they have posted on social media may have changed, and many others do not know and may disapprove of the extents to which their data is being used. Second, many times, data that is picked ignores the context in which it was originally presented. Other times, data is picked and, with it, the identity of the individual who created it, without keeping in mind how presenting their data onto new and unexpected audiences may harm the individual. All in all, researchers may want to prioritize documentation and validation of data, by understanding how it is documented and validated within the social media outlets themselves. While researchers strive for new discoveries, they need to pause and understand the unexpected factors that go into the aggregation of this data, which manipulate the data itself.


In anticipation of our upcoming panel discussion Social Media in Theory and Praxis: What is at Stake Now?, we wanted to highlight panel member Alise Tifentale, who will be giving her paper, “The Networked Camera: Mapping the Universe of Instagram Photography.”

An art and photography historian, Alise is a PhD candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center and a research fellow at the Cultural Analytics Lab, which uses data science to analyze patterns in big cultural data. The Lab’s key research projects co-authored by Tifentale include Selfiecity (2014) and The Exceptional and the Everyday: 144 Hours in Kyiv (2014). Her academic interests include Instagram and identity, networked cameras, visual culture, and data science+big cultural data.

For our upcoming panel, Alise will explore the visual culture of Instagram and the function of the “networked camera”: a “hybrid tool that seamlessly merges image-making, editing, sharing, and viewing functions.” The networked camera, Tifentale argues, isn’t “just a new kind of camera,” but a “hybrid tool that seamlessly merges image-making, editing, sharing, and viewing functions.” It has created “new conditions for photography,” obliging historians to developing new critical and research methods. 

In addition to exploring photography in today’s social media, Tifentale has written extensively on global issues in postwar photography, the history of art and photography in Latvia, as well as selected topics in Soviet and Eastern European art history. She was the co-curator of the Pavilion of Latvia at the 55th Venice Art Biennale (2013), the author of The Photograph as Art in Latvia, 1960–1969 (2011), and founder and editor-in-chief of photography magazine Foto Kvartals (2005–2010). Her articles have appeared in journals such as CAA.Reviews, PhotoResearcher, Networking Knowledge, ARTMargins, Russian Art & Culture, and others. Her doctoral dissertation, The “Olympiad of Photography”: The International Federation of Photographic Art, 1950–1965, deals with the “international style” of photography of the 1950s and the shifting social status of photographers.

Beyond her scholarly research, Alise has written three fiction books published in Latvian and German.

We look forward to hearing her insights during our panel discussion and hope you will join us! To learn more about Alise, check out the following resources:


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Social Media in Theory and Praxis: Chris Caruso

In preparation for our upcoming panel discussion “Social Media in Theory and Praxis: What is at Stake Now?” we wanted to highlight panel member Chris Caruso (@chriscaruso718).  He has been recognized as a pioneer in the grassroots use of the Internet and has received numerous grants and fellowships for his work combining technology, education, and anti-poverty organizing.  Chris Caruso was the coordinator of the Program Social Media Fellows (and the Videography Fellows) at the Graduate Center from 2012-2016.  Furthermore, Chris developed Professor David Harvey’s social media presence.  David Harvey now has more than 87 thousand followers on twitter. Chris is responsible for the foundation and model by which the Program Social Media Fellows operate today.  We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his work in Digital Initiatives at CUNY in general.

Chris received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, M.Phil. from The Graduate Center, City University of New York and is currently finishing his Doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He now works at as a research analyst at Thoughtworks which is a company of over 4500 people spread across 42 offices in 15 countries whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change.  It provides software design and delivery, and pioneering tools and consulting services.

Chris’s scholarly and professional interests including leveraging information technology to assist and encourage grassroots anti-poverty initiatives by training organizations to use the Internet to build capacity, create networks of support and broadcast the voices of poor people.  In doing so he has trained dozens of community organizations, social movements, NGOs, trade unions, and foundations across the United States, as well as in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, and Thailand.

We look forward to hearing his insights during the panel discussion and hope you will join us!

Want more Chris!? Check out these Chris Caruso resources:



Social Media…What’s at Stake Now?

You are invited to attend a very special event organized by us, GC’s Program Social Media Fellows!

Social Media in Theory & Praxis: What’s at Stake Now?

Use of digital platforms and tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Google has indelibly altered cultural production, political processes, economic activity, and individual habits. This event is a presentation and panel discussion on several pressing issues in social media and digital literacy featuring five invited scholars, organized and moderated by the Graduate Center Program Social Media Fellows. The speakers bring expertise in a range of timely topics including: grassroots use of the Internet, feminism, open source project development, labor, appropriation, peer production, virtuality, networked cameras, and big cultural data analysis.
Invited speakers include:
Chris Caruso, PhD candidate in Anthropology (GC, CUNY)
Sumana Harihareswara, Founder and Principal of Changeset Consulting
Michael Mandiberg, Professor of Media Culture (CSI, CUNY) & Coordinator of the ITP Certificate Program (GC, CUNY)
Laura Pavón, PhD candidate in Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures (GC, CUNY)
Alise Tifentale, PhD candidate in Art History (GC, CUNY)
Moderated by:
Naomi Barrettara, PSMF Coordinator & Fellow for Music
Jennifer Stoops, Fellow for Urban Education
All are welcome to attend! #digitalGC #SMcrit
The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
April 18, 2018: 6:30 PM
Digital Initiatives at GC, CUNY
The Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Certificate Program, GC, CUNY
The Center for the Humanities, GC, CUNY
The Futures Initiative, GC, CUNY

Metrics for your Research Impact – From the Chronicle of Higher Education

The Social Mediums are kind of metrics wonks. The work of promotion and social engagement can seem very *squishy* if you can’t measure your impact and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Increasingly, as scholarship moves online it’s becoming harder to aggregate the impact of all the ways research can be shared. This article describes  a new toolkit that helps people do this and puts it into a very attractive page (take a look at this sample here: ). Think of it like  CV for your research’s digital impact. It’s pretty impressive – The Social Mediums

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