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Bamdad, S., Finaughty, D. A., & Johns, S. E. (2022). ‘Grey areas’: ethical challenges posed by social media-enabled recruitment and online data collection in cross-border, social science research. 18(1), 24–38. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/17470161211045557


Are social science, cross-border research projects, where recruitment and data collection are carried out remotely (e.g. through social media and online platforms), required to follow similar ethical and data-sharing procedures as ‘on-the-ground’ studies that use traditional means of recruitment and participant engagement? This article reflects on our experience of dealing with this question when we (multi-national but UK based researchers) had to switch to online data collection due to the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the inability to travel or work in person with local communities and collaborators. Using social media platforms and online data collection when conducting research brings many advantages, such as being able to communicate remotely but directly with gatekeepers and collaborators, and in reaching potential participants on a global scale. However, neither the guidelines and advice for conducting ethically sound internet-based research, nor the academic literature focussed on building equitable research partnerships between the Global North and the Global South, offer much information regarding the ethical concerns, or address the grey areas, posed by this type of digital and distanced transnational research. In our experience, conducting research remotely made negotiations of access very challenging due to the politics of positionality between Global North and South researchers, lack of clarity on ethical processes and (mis)perceptions of gatekeepers who we could not meet in person. We hope the reflections on, and discussion of, our experience encourage deliberation on the present ethical challenges posed by online and social-media-disseminated data collection, particularly in cross-border circumstances.