Big data, method and the ethics of location : a case study of a hookup app for men who have sex with men

Light, B ORCID:, Mitchell, P and Wikström, P 2018, 'Big data, method and the ethics of location : a case study of a hookup app for men who have sex with men' , Social Media + Society, 4 (2) , pp. 1-10.

PDF - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0.

Download (136kB) | Preview


With the rise of geo-social media, location is emerging as a particularly sensitive data point for big data and digital media research. To explore this area, we reflect on our ethics for a study in which we analyze data generated via an app that facilitates public sex among men who have sex with men. The ethical sensitivities around location are further heightened in the context of research into such digital sexual cultures. Public sexual cultures involving men who have sex with men operate both in spaces “meant” for public sex (e.g., gay saunas and dark rooms) and spaces “not meant” for public sex (e.g., shopping centers and public toilets). The app in question facilitates this activity. We developed a web scraper that carefully collected selected data from the app and that data were then analyzed to help identify ethical issues. We used a mixture of content analysis using Python scripts, geovisualisation software and manual qualitative coding techniques. Our findings, which are methodological rather than theoretical in nature, center on the ethics associated with generating, processing, presenting, archiving and deleting big data in a context where harassment, imprisonment, physical harm and even death occur. We find a tension in normal standards of ethical conduct where humans are involved in research. We found that location came to the fore as a key - though not the only - actor requiring attention when considering ethics in a big data context.

Item Type: Article
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society > Centre for Applied Research in Health, Welfare and Policy
Journal or Publication Title: Social Media + Society
Publisher: Sage
ISSN: 2056-3051
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Professor Ben Light
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2018 13:36
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2022 23:11

Actions (login required)

Edit record (repository staff only) Edit record (repository staff only)


Downloads per month over past year