I maintain a Facebook account purely for research purposes. I have about 30 or so friends on my account. I have always disagreed with FB and its ethics, however, recently, in the light of the CA scandal I have found myself increasingly questioning my use of the site.

The benefits that FB provide to the researcher of virtual communities are undoubtedly strong. Much of my master's research focused on virtual communities in Iraq and Syria, and much of this would have been impossible without FB. However now I am considering deleting my account in the wake of these - unsurprising - revelations.

As a PhD student, the benefits of being part of an online social community are notable. As a Linux user and a supporter of Free and Open Source Software I also have to wrestle with the occasional difficulties of trying to get software to work which Windows or Macs users would breeze through with ease, but I am happy to do so because of my support for free software and the additional learning/skills I inherit.

Maintaining an ethical standard re software and software companies becomes increasingly difficult in the modern climate. Does one just put one's ethical beliefs on the back burner in the interests of research and should one be perpetually plagued with the decisions one has made to maintain a FB account in spite of disagreeing strongly with the company? Or does one delete one's account and potentially miss out on the great research opportunities it provides?

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    The question you are asking is a moral dilemma that is unlikely to receive a definitive answer: if you feel like you critically need this tool to do your research, then not using it is likely to damage your career. I publish and review for editors whose commercial practices irritate me, but believe that I cannot have a career without them. Keep an eye open for the alternative, limit your usage, but don't do anything too drastic? (And close your personal FB, if you have one)
    – Clément
    Mar 23, 2018 at 12:57
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    there was one good explanation about this in one of my question, let mi find it
    – SSimon
    Mar 23, 2018 at 12:59
  • @Clément thank you very much. The way I see it, I have three choices. Just get on with it and stop worrying about it - but as I say this will continually plague me. Secondly, delete the account and worry about the missed opportunities. Thirdly, delete the account but include the moral dilemma as part of my research. However, I am unsure of how to do this since my research focuses on music and it's not really that relevant. Well, maybe it is to a point since several of our research training sessions focused on software. My research focuses partly on online communities, so FB is important.
    – C26
    Mar 23, 2018 at 13:07
  • academia.stackexchange.com/questions/69231/… @c26
    – SSimon
    Mar 23, 2018 at 13:07
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    I do have same concerns as you, they even ask me to upload my passport! because in FB words, they know I dont go with that name
    – SSimon
    Mar 23, 2018 at 13:08

1 Answer 1


You are facing a moral dilemma that only you can answer. We all are facing a similar dilemma:

Do my professional activities contribute to the wealth of un-ethical companies?

That company may be Facebook, a publisher, a software company, a private group, etc. Most of the people I know will think

If I don't have the choice, I will go with it but keep an eye open for the alternatives, and make sure the people I work with are aware of that dilemma.

I use C# and Visual Studio in my teaching, despite not really liking Microsoft: I roll with it, but make sure my students know of the alternatives, and bring up the topic regularly with my colleagues, in the hope that we will collectively chose an alternative.

Arguably you can't make that switch on your own: you can't make all the virtual communities in Iraq and Syria switch to Diaspora overnight, but you can create an account on that website as well, encourage people to switch, and keep an eye on both platforms.

As you stated, that recent "scandal" with Facebook didn't create that dilemma: you already knew that your data was used in all sorts of ways. But maybe you can use it to encourage some of your contacts to move to a different platform?

Some people have the opposite approach and put their morals before their career: Alexander Grothendieck is such an example. Quoting Wikipedia:

Grothendieck's political views were radical and pacifist […]. He retired from scientific life around 1970, after having discovered that the IHÉS was partly funded by the military.

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    Well if you read the Wikipedia article further, you can see that according to people close to Grothendieck, the military funding wasn't the only issue. (And if it were, this would have been a bit of an extreme example. I can't find a reference right now, but if I remember correctly, the IHÉS's budget coming from the military was a fraction of a percent of the institution's budget...)
    – user9646
    Mar 23, 2018 at 13:54
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    You raise a good point here - where online communities are involved - communication will have to be done through email [mostly Gmail], Skype or Facebook [maybe Twtitter]. Therefore this necessitates assisting the work of Google, Microsoft or Skype. Switching people to other platforms could greatly hinder working practice. Therefore, I suppose the question is, is working with the Big Three inevitable? Yes, to an extent. Is it avoidable? Yes. But is doing so convenient for interviewees? Mostly not. What is more important, ethics or research/career? Maybe that is question for me to answer.
    – C26
    Mar 23, 2018 at 14:29

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