What Is “Publicly Available Data”? Exploring Blurred Public–Private Boundaries and Ethical Practices Through a Case Study on Instagram

Signe Ravn, Ashley Barnwell, Barbara Barbosa Neves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article adds to the literature on ethics in digital research by problematizing simple understandings of what constitutes “publicly available data,” thereby complicating common “consent waiver” approaches. Based on our recent study of representations of family life on Instagram, a platform with a distinct visual premise, we discuss the ethical challenges we encountered and our practices for moving forward. We ground this in Lauren Berlant’s concept of “intimate publics” to conceptualize the different understandings of “publics” that appear to be at play. We make the case for a more reflexive approach to social media research ethics that builds on the socio-techno-ethical affordances of the platform to address difficult questions about how to determine social media users’ diverse, and sometimes contradictory, understandings of what is “public.”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-45
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • consent
  • digital ethics
  • Instagram
  • public/private
  • research ethics
  • socio-techno-ethical affordances

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