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Wilkinson, D., & Thelwall, M. (2011). Researching Personal Information on the Public Web: Methods and Ethics. Social Science Computer Review, 29(4), 387–401. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439310378979


There are many personal and social issues that are rarely discussed in public and hence are difficult to study. Recently, however, the huge uptake of blogs, forums, and social network sites has created spaces in which previously private topics are publicly discussed, giving a new opportunity for researchers investigating such topics. This article describes a range of simple techniques to access personal information relevant to social research questions and illustrates them with small case studies. It also discusses ethical considerations, concluding that the default position is almost the reverse of that for traditional social science research: the text authors should not be asked for consent nor informed of the participation of their texts. Normally, however, steps should be taken to ensure that text authors are anonymous in academic publications even when their texts and identities are already public.