I have approached this research from an interdisciplinary perspective and from a framework that engages the epistemology of the internet as a methodological basis. While the core methodological framework is rooted in digital anthropology, this research also draws upon fields such as technology studies, sociology, computer science, philosophy, psychology.
Instead of merely imposing research methods from other contexts, I apply digital methods that use the internet as both an object of study and a source. The fact is, digital data shadow donors are a collection of anonymous individuals, not a traditional “classical” online community that can be a field site in which to immerse myself. By drawing upon a digital methods paradigm, I do not exclusively delve into identifying a community, but rather map the practices through which the digital data donors structure social formations around the focal object of the platform OurDataHelps. As Richard Rogers (2013) discusses, digital methods are based on online groundedness, denoting research that follows the medium, captures its dynamic, and makes grounded claims about societal and cultural change.
Informing my research practice are the 2012 digital ethical guidelines of Heider & Massanri, the 2012 American Association of Anthropology’s statement on ethics, as well as Benton, Coppersmith and Dredze’s 2017 Ethical Research Protocols for Social Media Health Research. The primary ethical obligation of this research, involving people who have donated their data traces to help advance research around mental health and suicide, is to do no harm and avoid negatively impacting the well being of participants. This is important given the vulnerability of participants with experiences of suicide and loss. I thus rely on informed consent and am transparent about the outcomes of this research. Interviews are based on my commitment to always protecting the confidentiality and privacy of my participants.
Moreover, without departing from an empirical, systematic, social science research, I use an engaged research approach that aims at making a difference for the individuals and groups beyond the academic community. This approach emerges from my engagement with communities of Suicide Prevention Social Media (SPSM) and Open Data. While I seek to engage with academia, I also open this research and its outcomes to be of benefit to these activists and grassroots communities.