Researching the Evolving Online Ecosystem: Annex

Authors: Jakob Guhl, Oliver Marsh and Henry Tuck
Published: 21 July 2022

“Researching the Evolving Online Ecosystem: Barriers, Methods and Future Challenges” outlines the findings from the initial scoping phase of a project supported by a grant from Omidyar Network and launched by ISD and CASM Technology to identify online spaces used by extremist, hate and disinformation actors and communities as they increasingly move away from mainstream social media platforms. The report outlines the key barriers posed by these platforms to researching and mitigating harmful content and behaviours, and reviews existing research methodologies and tools to address these barriers. Finally, the report presents possible future scenarios for the evolving online ecosystem, and proposes a series of initial recommendations for policymakers, platforms and the research community.

The Annex discusses ethical, legal and security risks to digital research. It outlines how ethical approaches to online research have developed and considers how approaches differ across different sectors that engage in digital research. After describing some of the legal pitfalls surrounding digital research and data collection, it discusses ISD’s considerations for a range of data collection approaches and different types of online platforms that are especially relevant when researching “adversarial” online communities (e.g. violent extremists). It lastly presents a series of approaches and tools to mitigate these types of risks, including best practices for cyber-security, “digital hygiene” and Operational Security (OPSEC).

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