top of page

Session and Workshop Abstracts

Session 4A (S4A) - Abstracts

Promising Platforms or Digital Dangers?: Navigating Ethics in the virtual world

Paper 1: Covert Research and Networked Harassment: A Holistic Review

Speaker(s): Antonia Vaughan

Keywords:  alt right; covert; networked harassment; safety

Abstract: The alt right online has a consistent record of networked harassment, particularly targeting academics who research the far right and adjacent topics (such as the manosphere and gaming; see Gamergate and #OperationDiggingDiGRA). It is an inevitable risk of being present online, particularly for those already on the sharp end of far right discourse. The structure of social platforms and their highly digital nature makes researchers increasingly vulnerable to harassment; not only are they accessible through a simple search, but the alt right can trawl the internet to build a precise profile. This is compounded by the pressure from institutions and funding bodies to develop a public presence, which Massanari terms as the culture of ‘microcelebrity’ (2019). Massanari (2019) has highlighted how this new environment has challenged traditional ethics procedures that focus on disclosure and informed consent with little guidance provided by sources such as funding bodies and research institutions. 

This paper provides such a critical holistic consideration of covert research to incorporate both safety and the issue of consent Current ethical guidance fails to appropriately situate ethical considerations within this developing environment.


The option of covert research – which protects the researcher from the hostile communities for as long as possible – is subsumed into sections on consent rather than taking a holistic approach that involves consideration of the security and safety of the researcher. The paper argues that whilst the participant’s safety and rights should be of primordial concern, we need to expand our scope to reflexively consider the environment we work in beyond the specific site of research. Frequently, the power balance tips to the alt right, with the highly visible researcher subject to a shadowy swarm. The threat to the researcher goes beyond the specific sites of research to the dissemination, with alt-right figures picking up new targets by discovering publications. This paper argues that in order to protect researchers doing critical work, we need to reconceptualise covert research in this environment away from a taboo option-of-last-resort, to an overt practice with associated guidance and reflections. 

Paper 2: Situational ethics in pandemics: Issues with using online messaging Apps in the context of sensitive topics in Colombia

Speaker(s): Estrada-Jaramillo, Ana Lucia

Keywords: Situational ethics, sensitive topics, Latin America, messaging Apps.


Abstract: The use of online methodologies always requires careful attention to confidentiality and security principles, made more acute in the current pandemic and when dealing with sensitive topics like Congenital Syphilis prevention in Colombia. I argue for a situational ethics approach (Warrell and Jacobsen, 2014;  Halford, 2017; Snee, 2013) allowing the flexibility of navigating through the constant changing landscapes of online research, mainly when using Messaging Apps as my research shows. As ongoing fieldwork research, my research relies heavily on the use of WhatsApp to reach out to vulnerable populations who might otherwise not participate in research. I also use WhatsApp to conduct interviews, asynchronous focus groups and diaries with different stakeholders (health care workers, health care administrators, pregnant women, partners and relatives). Several advantages are found while using WhatsApp for research. Besides being widely used among vulnerable populations, it allows us to discuss topics at participants´ own pace and express themselves limiting social compliance. Although several measures have been put in place to conduct fieldwork to warranty participants´ anonymity and confidentiality; the latest changes to the Terms and Conditions stated by WhatsApp for their users in some countries as Colombia might compromise those principles.


The new conditions refer to sharing information with Facebook companies and business that use their services.  Information such as mobile numbers, IP addresses, location, other contacts´ numbers, transactions and payments do through the App and frequency, time and duration of interactions among users (business and enterprises included). Recently, there have been allegations of security issues such as mobile´s numbers appearing on Google search. Therefore, many Latin American users are migrating to other Message Apps such as Telegram or Signal who have different characteristics in terms of system architecture and security settings but have not been assessed by our institutional Ethics Committee. A situational ethics approach will allow to follow ethics principles while adapting the research methodology and trialling the use of new Apps. Therefore, it will keep up with the sudden shifts that technology has in which ethics committees’ knowledge of apps' security is likely to lag. 

Paper 3: Negotiating mobile phone-based gendered mobility analyses using feminist research ethics and practice

Speaker(s): Arthur Vandervoort

Keywords: gender data, mobile phone data, data feminism, natural disasters, gendered mobility


Abstract: Situated at the intersection between feminist epistemology, data justice, and critical data studies, the data feminism literature provides a uniquely suitable framework for informing both the evaluation and development of data-intensive research in dynamic and contested spaces. Feminist scholars and activists have long emphasised the importance of capturing “everyday spatial practices” as a key element of identifying the gendered dimension of mobility (Fuentes and Cookson, 2020). Thanks to the digital trace data generated by the near-ubiquity of mobile phones, such everyday spatial dynamics are now accessible for quantification and empirical analysis at an unprecedented scale (Cookson et al., 2020; Taylor, 2016a). Such digital trace data are associated with serious concerns regarding user privacy, data accessibility, and representability (de Montjoye et al., 2018; Taylor, 2016b), as well as requiring significant data processing in order to be usable (Barbosa et al., 2018). Because of this, researchers have highlighted the need for “adequate normative frameworks” to integrate mobile phone data into the gender data toolkit (Abreu Lopes and Bailur, 2018). 

This paper seeks to address this need by outlining how data feminism combines a feminist analysis of the relationship between knowledge production and power with a data justice-inspired framework for informing emancipatory data work into a useable data science praxis, applicable to both routine instances of data work and high-level analyses of research projects and their wider contexts (Green, 2020). Looking towards the humanitarian contexts mobile phone-based mobility research is often situated in, this paper presents an approach to evaluate “big gender data” research while also responding to calls for more feminist conversations within the big-data community (Vaitla et al., 2020).

bottom of page