Study: Twitter users unaware researchers using their tweets

Most Twitter users remain unaware researchers collect and analyze their tweets — including deleted ones. Most Twitter users believe this shouldn’t be allowed without their consent and wrongly assume it would be a violation of Twitter’s terms of service, according to the results of a new study conducted by researchers from University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Kentucky.

“There is a ton of research right now using Twitter and other social media data,” said Casey Fiesler, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of information science at CU. “Yet, our study found that the majority of users may not even be aware that this is a thing that happens.”

The study comes at a time when several high-profile controversies raise questions about what’s ethical and legal in the world of big data research.

For the study, Fiesler and co-author Nicholas Proferes, an assistant professor at University of Kentucky, surveyed 268 Twitter users. The average participant had posted about 2,000 tweets and followed about 350 people.

Asked if they knew researchers sometimes use their tweets, 62 percent said no. Asked whether they thought researchers were permitted to do so without asking them, 43 percent said no. Of those, 61 percent said they believed researchers would be breaking ethical rules and 23 percent said they believed Twitter’s terms of service forbid it.

More than half of the survey respondents said if a researcher contacted them to obtain consent and told them what the study was about, they’d probably give it.