Social Media and MR Codes of Conduct – A Grey Area?

Picture the scene. Your client has come to you asking for a fairly quick and most importantly cheap piece of research (no change there then!) with the aim of the research being to find out how people are talking about their brand on Facebook. It sounds quite simple doesn’t it? They want it cheap, they want it quick – well let’s just go onto their social media sites and pull off what people are saying! Actually, it’s not as easy as that.

For a few years now, certainly since the explosion of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the Market Research Society have been struggling furiously to relate their code of conduct to the new emerging social media platforms that seem to be springing up. To put the popularity of social media sites into context, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third biggest in the World behind China and India. That’s a pretty impressive statistic and shows why as market researchers, we need to be clear on the barriers and principles surrounding social media research.

It’s a particularly grey area and as I write, various privacy laws (such as English law of privacy, Copyright and data protection to name a few) are under review in Europe in a hope to provide some clarity on what can be shared and what cannot.

The problem is, most people think sites such as Facebook and Twitter are public sites, so surely we’re allowed to take from these things that people have made public?  Unfortunately not. Most people are aware of the furore over Facebook and privacy when in 2009, they changed their website so that information users thought was private was actually made public – it’s these muddy waters that make our jobs difficult as do we rely on the privacy settings made on websites like these or do we factor in moral and ethical factors? I think we have to follow the latter and as rule B8 in the MRS Code of Conduct states: the anonymity of respondents must be preserved unless they have given their informed consent for their details to be revealed or for attributable comments to be passed on. Surely we can just take their name out of the clients report? Well yes but someone could easily copy their statement verbatim and paste it into a search engine, such as Google and be taken back to the original source, therefore revealing the respondent in all their glory.

So what’s my point? The moral of the story is act with care and if you’re even 1% doubtful that what you’re doing is wrong, contact someone at the MRS – they will be able to tell you if you’re in the clear or whether you should stay clear.

You have been warned…


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Hanna Bentley
01962 842211
Article date - 16/04/2012
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