Here is my mini ethnography on the twitter feed for the Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2013. I decided to use Storify as I was intrigued by the approbation of narrative style in ethnographies both in Hine (2000, p. 44) and in a chance email quoting Carolyn Ellis (The Ethnographic I, 2004) regarding autoethnography. Not to mention that it seemed to handle tweets well within a ‘story’ context!
One of the reasons that I chose this community was that it ticked all the boxes for an ethical analysis:
1) What ethical expectations are established by the venue?
Twitter is considered to be a very public forum. I have first determined that each tweet I quote was available without logging into twitter (e.g. via twubs or a search engine) before posting it.
2) Who are the subjects posters / authors / creators of the material and/or inter/actions under study?
All contributors were adults attending a professional event.
3) What are the initial ethical expectations/assumptions of the authors/subjects being studied?
Participants were not told that the twitter feed was private, nor were they cajoled into using it. Participants could set their own twitter preferences, or refrain from tweeting all together. Participants may not have been aware that the tweets at this hashtag were being aggregated on another site (twubs); this aggregation had been applied to the hashtag by a third party for at least two years before the event in question. However, for the purposes of this ethnography I only used tweets which appeared both in this public space and publicly on twitter.
4) What ethically significant risks does the research entail for the subject(s)?
The possible harm here is minimal. It is possible that a participant who did not understand how twitter works could have posted tweets that they did not wish to be public. However, this study does not significantly add to this risk, as the tweets were already public.