This week's readings were very interesting, and they raised several issues that I hadn't previously considered. More than ever, I feel like a lot of my ideas about these topics are in flux, and I don't know where I land on these topics.
1. Challenges of temporariness and related ethical issues
All experiences are temporary moments in time, and traditionally, researchers would work to capture those through videos, photos, audio recordings, and field notes. But now that there are resources such as SnapChat -- an app that markets itself based on the temporariness of anything that's posted, what does that mean for researchers? The Pihlaja YouTube study described in the Page, Barton, Unger & Zappavigna (2014) text highlights this challenge. Pihlaja was attempting to study dialogue through comments on YouTube videos, and some people went back and deleted their comments. How could that data then be handled? It existed, and if it was a more traditional setting, would a subject be able to retract their comments or actions? But in an online setting, that becomes more of a possibility, and I feel like it's a gray area for how to handle that as a researcher. Going back to SnapChat, if all posts are ephemeral by purpose, can the researcher even ethically use screencaptures for research? If not, how could you research that platform effectively?
2. Terms of Service
I have never taken the time to read any of the Terms of Service for platforms like Facebook and YouTube, but I know that several platforms have pretty restrictive expectations. YouTube, for example, doesn't allow you to download videos from their platform, but there are many other services (e.g., KeepVid) that will allow you to download YouTube videos. Similarly, Facebook claims ownership of the content that is posted on its platform, but then other services like Texifter allow you to download Facebook content for analysis. What are the legal and ethical issues involved with those practices, and how do digital researchers handle those?
The Fuchs (2014) chapters were fantastic in helping me understand some of the critical Marxism. I'm fairly familiar with Marxist theory, but these chapters unpacked the concepts in easy-to-understand ways while drawing in concrete examples from modern social media practices. One part that really stood out to me was the section in chapter 1 about the dialectic and contradictions. It seems that we give corporations like Facebook a lot of power when we agree to their evolving terms of service, and perhaps one way to take back some of that power is through using other tools (e.g., Texifter) that can help us better understand how social media works. Are critical theorists more flexible in their thinking about some of these platforms' rules and expectations? And if so, how does the IRB feel about that?
I'm not sure where I fall on any of these issues anymore. The more I tread into the waters of online research, the murkier my surroundings feel. I'm not deterred by that, but there's an element of unknown that's a bit intimidating--especially as an inexperienced researcher. I'll clearly need to explore these topics further.