Management of social media research

The following is general guidance about using social media as a research tool. If you have any specific queries related to your individual project or circumstance, please ask for further advice.

Data protection

Original social media content is personal data and is also copyrighted, either by the creator or the platform (depending on the specific Terms and Conditions).

Social media content can be used as a data source for research purposes. However, the content is personal data as covered by UK data protection legislation. Social media posts may also include special category (sensitive) personal data in some cases. As such – the requirements of the GDPR must be met when using social media data in research.

Where possible and appropriate we must be transparent with individuals about how their data is being used in your research. If you are looking at relatively few accounts and/or analysing them on a regular basis then you should contact the creators to advise them of what you are doing.

However, there is only a requirement to inform individuals of how their data will be used if the effort is not disproportionate. If your cohort includes a significant number of accounts or users, then it is too time prohibitive to contact each of them and therefore your use of their data is exempt from this task.

If you are looking at dormant accounts, the effort to try and trace the creator could be too difficult.

Your lawful basis for using this data should be “public task” in order to meet Article 6 of the GDPR and “made public by the data subject” to meet Article 9. You should not need to contact individuals for consent to use their data for research.

You MUST NOT use your own personal social media account for research purposes but set up a special account that clearly states it is for research purposes. This allows original creators to block your account if they do not wish to be involved.

In all your communications about your research project you should clearly describe the processes you are going through to research/analyse the social media platforms you are researching.

Most platforms have their own Terms and Conditions and some have the facility for researchers to pay for access. In such instances you may have additional rights, but in all instances, you need to check what you can and cannot do.

For more information about data protection go to the University data protection website or email


All original social media content is subject to copyright.

Copyright law allows the use of protected material, without having to ask for permission, for the purposes of quotation, criticism and review. If your research is not about specific accounts/creators you may be able to quote posts, so long as you only take as much of the material that is fair to demonstrate your criticism, review or quotation. Although you should also always be aware of the Ts and Cs of the platforms you are researching.

If, however, you are researching specific accounts/creators for a period of time and wish to refer, quote or sample, then, as you will be using a greater proportion of a single account, the risk of infringing copyright increases. Therefore, you should contact the creators to ask for their permission to use their material.

Most platforms have their own Terms and Conditions and some have the facility for researchers to pay for access. In such instances you may have additional rights, but in all instances you need to check what you can and cannot do.

Text and Data Mining

UK copyright law includes an exception which allows those conducting research at a university to make copies of protected material for  TDM as long as:

  • the researcher(s) have lawful access to the source material
  • the purpose of the research is non-commercial even if it is commercially funded
  • the source of the data is cited in the usual way, unless it is impossible, practically, to do so

In theory, this  copyright exception overrides any contracts or licences required by the suppliers, publishers, platforms, etc. which may prevent copies being made for TDM analysis. However,  publishers do have the right to apply measures to maintain their network security and stability and this may  restrict a researcher’s rights  to copy for TDM purposes.  Some require that researchers use the platform’s tools or interfaces or contact them in advance of any activity. .  It is always advisable to engage with the provider prior to copying for TDM purposes. If in doubt of your position as a researcher, ask for further advice from the University’s Licensing Manager.

If you are carrying out text and data mining on a social media platform, you are gathering large amounts of data and as such would not be required to contact individual creators.  However, you should still be transparent in the parameters you used when text and a data mining, including if possible, sharing any code.

For more information about copyright go to the library copyright webpages  or email