Ethics as Methods: Doing Ethics in the Era of Big Data Research—Introduction

Introduction to the Special issue of Social Media + Society on “Ethics as Methods: Doing Ethics in the Era of Big Data Research”: Building on a variety of theoretical paradigms (i.e., critical theory, [new] materialism, feminist ethics, theory of cultural techniques) and frameworks (i.e., contextual integrity, deflationary perspective, ethics of care), the Special Issue contributes specific cases and fine-grained conceptual distinctions to ongoing discussions about the ethics in data-driven research.

In the second decade of the 21st century, a grand narrative is emerging that posits knowledge derived from data analytics as true, because of the objective qualities of data, their means of collection and analysis, and the sheer size of the data set. The by-product of this grand narrative is that the qualitative aspects of behavior and experience that form the data are diminished, and the human is removed from the process of analysis.

This situates data science as a process of analysis performed by the tool, which obscures human decisions in the process. The scholars involved in this Special Issue problematize the assumptions and trends in big data research and point out the crisis in accountability that emerges from using such data to make societal interventions.

Our collaborators offer a range of answers to the question of how to configure ethics through a methodological framework in the context of the prevalence of big data, neural networks, and automated, algorithmic governance of much of human socia(bi)lity…(More)”.