Great Problems Great Minds Seminar Series: Comparative Sensitivity of Social Media Data and Their Acceptable Use in Research


Libby Hemphill

Join the Department of Social Sciences for this Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series event titled, “More than Weight, Less than Driver’s License Number: Comparative Sensitivity of Social Media Data and Their Acceptable Use in Research” featuring guest speaker Libby Hemphill. This seminar is open to the public and will take place over Zoom on Thursday, April 13, 2023 from 12:40–1:40 p.m.


Social media data offers a rich resource for researchers interested in public health, labor economics, politics, social behaviors, and other topics. However, scale and anonymity mean that researchers often cannot directly get permission from users to collect and analyze their social media data. In this talk, we compare individuals’ perceptions of acceptable uses of other types of sensitive data, such as health records and individual identifiers, with their perceptions of acceptable uses of social media data. We surveyed 1,018 people and found that individuals think of their social media data as moderately sensitive and agree that it should be protected. Respondents were generally okay with researchers using their data in social research, but prefer that researchers clearly articulate benefits and seek explicit consent before conducting research. We argue that researchers must ensure that their research provides social benefits worthy of individual risks, and that they must address those risks throughout the research process.


Libby Hemphill is an associate professor at the School of Information and Digital Studies Institute in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and a research associate professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. She is also a director of the Resource Center for Minority Data, a director of Social Media Archive at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, and an associate director at the Center for Social Media Research. She holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree in information from the University of Michigan, and a bachelor's degree in general studies in the humanities from University of Chicago. Her research areas include social media, civic engagement, automated moderation techniques, fan studies, political communication, and digital curation and data stewardship. Hemphill’s research has been featured in many high-quality journals in these fields, such as New Media & Society, Policy & Internet, and Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Her research has been funded by Meta Platforms, Inc., the National Science Foundation, Anti-Defamation League, the Institute for Museum and Library Studies, Mozilla Foundation, Coleman Foundation, DiscoverText, and Amazon.

This event is part of the Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series which explores the major problems facing humanity as we move into the heart of the twenty-first century. To see the full schedule and videos from previous events, visit the seminar series page. For more information, contact Assistant Professor of Social Sciences Hao Huang at

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