Is scraping Twitter ethical?

I think the majority of the population would relate to this….Who even reads the terms & conditions before clicking agree?

When you tweet, if your account isn’t on private you are aware that anyone in the world can see your tweet. But, do you expect to find it in a newspaper? On the TV? In someone’s piece of work? These are just a few examples of where your tweet could end up.

Before writing this blog post, I decided to read a bit about Twitter, then I stumbled upon their privacy policy. At the top of the page, in a large font, you will find:

“What you share on Twitter may be viewed all around the world instantly. You are what you Tweet!” (Twitter, 2016)

Right, OK. So now you’re probably thinking about all of the personal tweets you’ve posted, or the Twitter arguments you’ve had, or just simply a drunken night out photo. Anyone in the world could be looking at your Twitter feed as you’re reading this. Scary right?

I always remember my Dad saying to me when I started signing up to Social Media pages, ‘Imagine me and mum are looking over your shoulder when you post.’ That has always stuck with me but is actually true! Anyone could be looking.

“Most of the information you provide us through Twitter is information you are asking us to make public.” (Twitter, 2016)


This week I have set up and run TAGS…. “A free Google Sheet template which lets you setup and run automated collection of search results from Twitter.” I really enjoyed using it, it allows you to search for a word, then scrapes Twitter for all tweets containing that word.

Is it really ethical to do this though?

Fortunately for us who want to research topics by scraping Twitter, it is allowed. But, is it strictly ethical?

All Social Media users have agreed to terms and conditions, which often includes clauses on how their data can be accessed by third parties, including researchers.

The web holds billions of data on consumer behaviour, attitudes, views and preferences, which researchers want to see. Boyd and Crawford argue, “it is problematic for researchers to justify their actions as ethical simply because the data are accessible…The process of evaluating the research ethics cannot be ignored simply because the data are seemingly public.” (Boyd and Crawford 2012, p672)

I agree with this to an extent but only in particular situations. If someone posts in a private Facebook group or forum I think it would be less ethical to use this information as the uploader has posted it into a group with people who they believe to have the same interests. Not, a researcher who is only there to see what is being written.

Whereas, I believe an open conversation on Twitter is public because it is posted for anyone to see. Therefore, it would be considered more ethical to use this information.

Social Media sites give people the choice to have private accounts. If they chose not too, there are no laws to say that their information cannot be used.

Personally, I do not like to use information without consulting the author first. When I was writing my dissertation I was part of some private groups on Facebook where I posted my questionnaire link. I did this so participants could opt in or out and remain anonymous throughout. When I interviewed people, I asked them if they would mind me using their name in my research. Most of them said they didn’t mind me using their quotes but not their names. So, I referred to each participant as A, B, C & D throughout.

Luckily, I only interviewed four people, but using TAGS, thousands of tweets appear so it would be impossible to ask everyone first if they would mind. I think, if the topic was sensitive I would definitely go a different way about it. But, in my case, the topics I am thinking about studying are not sensitive, therefore, I would use public tweets as research.


Do you agree? I would love to know if anyone doesn’t!


Boyd, D. & Crawford, K. (2012) ‘CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR BIG DATA’, Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), pp. 662–679. doi: 10.1080/1369118x.2012.678878.

Twitter (2016) Privacy policy. Available at: (Accessed: 9 October 2016).

TAGS (2016) TAGS. Available at: (Accessed: 9 October 2016).

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