Ethics and images in social media research


  • Nicole Taylor Texas State University
  • Louie Dean Valencia-García Texas State University
  • Angela VandenBroek Texas State University
  • Ashley Stinnett Western Kentucky University
  • Alejandro Allen Texas State University



social media research, machine learning, digital technology, online research ethics, ethnographic methods


This study examines strategies for anonymizing online data in a way that follows ethical guidelines while also retaining the fluid nature of participant engagement with social media. We explore unanticipated ethical issues that emerged as we began capturing and anonymizing social media posts for our ethnography of college students and online sociality. Using examples from our data, we illustrate our penciling technique to anonymize images for the naked eye while also considering the digital footprint. We consider methodological and ethical challenges of anonymization in a specific internet research context — user generated social media images obtained with informed consent — and explore the implications of our findings on the potential life of digital content.




How to Cite

Taylor, N., Valencia-García, L. D., VandenBroek, A., Stinnett, A., & Allen, A. (2023). Ethics and images in social media research. First Monday, 28(4).