YouTube, Google, Facebook: 21st Century Online Video Research and Research Ethics


  • Nicolas Legewie Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW Berlin)
  • Anne Nassauer Freie Universität Berlin



research ethics, online research, video data, confidentiality, informed consent, privacy, Web 2.0, YouTube


Since the early 2000s, the proliferation of cameras in devices such as mobile phones, closed-circuit television (CCTV), or body cameras has led to a sharp increase in video recordings of human interaction and behavior. Through websites that employ user-generated content (e.g., YouTube) and live streaming sites (e.g., GeoCam), access to such videos virtually is at the fingertips of social science researchers. Online video data offer great potential for social science research to study an array of human interaction and behavior, but they also raise ethical questions to which existing guidelines and publications only provide partial answers. In our article we address this gap, drawing on existing ethical discussions and applying them to the use of online video data. We examine five areas in which online video research raises specific questions or promises unique potentials: informed consent, analytic opportunities, privacy, transparency, and minimizing harm to participants. We discuss their interplay and how these areas can inform practitioners, reviewers, and interested readers of online video studies when evaluating the ethical standing of a study. With this study, we contribute to an informed and transparent discussion about ethics in online video research.


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Author Biographies

Nicolas Legewie, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW Berlin)

Nicolas LEGEWIE is a research associate at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin). His research interests include social inequality and mobility, migration, and social networks. His methodological interests include qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), visual data analysis (VDA), and research methodology. He is currently co-leading the research project "Mentoring of Refugees" (MORE), which examines the impact of a mentoring program on the integration of refugees in Germany through a randomized control trial.

Anne Nassauer, Freie Universität Berlin

Anne NASSAUER is an assistant professor at the Department of Sociology at the John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin. Her research areas include collective behavior, micro-sociology, violence, and social movements. Her methodological interests include video data analysis (VDA), qualitative research design and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA). She is currently conducting several research projects studying violence from an interdisciplinary perspective through the use of online video data.




How to Cite

Legewie, N., & Nassauer, A. (2018). YouTube, Google, Facebook: 21st Century Online Video Research and Research Ethics. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 19(3).



Research Ethics in Qualitative Research