Marta Fadda, Martin Sykora, Suzanne Elayan, Milo A Puhan, John A Naslund, Stephen J Mooney, Emiliano Albanese, Rosalba Morese and Oliver Gruebner
Spatial approaches to epidemiological research with big social media data provide tremendous opportunities to study the relationship between the socio-ecological context where these data are generated and health indicators of interest. Such research poses a number of ethical challenges, particularly in relation to issues such as privacy, informed consent, data security, and storage. While these issues have received considerable attention by researchers in relation to research for physical health purposes in the past 10 years, there have been few efforts to consider the ethical challenges of conducting mental health research, particularly with geo-referenced social media data. The aim of this article is to identify strengths and limitations of current recommendations to address the specific ethical issues of geo-referenced tweets for mental health research. We contribute to the ongoing debate on the ethical implications of big data research and also provide recommendations to researchers and stakeholders alike on how to tackle them, with a specific focus on the use of geo-referenced data for mental health research purposes. With increasing awareness of data privacy and confidentiality issues (even for non-spatial social media data) it becomes crucial to establish professional standards of conduct so that compliance with ethical standards of conducting research with health-related social media data can be prioritized and easily assessed.