Inequalities in Social Media Use and their Implications for Digital Methods Research
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Inequalities in social media have been investigated under the umbrella of a digital divide. Research has shown how inequalities based on social categories are perpetuated or even reinforced with digital technologies. Different levels of inequality have been differentiated, including the first-level, second-level, and third-level digital divide. When it comes to social media, all these divides have received attention, but they have not been systematically connected to digital methods research, which relies on trace data, often from social media. This chapter discusses inequalities in social media access, use, and outcomes and connects them to digital methods research from an ethical perspective. It looks at two key issues for data subjects when data about them is analysed through digital methods: representation and privacy. Both issues are tied to questions of power and inequalities that merit careful attention among social media researchers. Beyond unequal representation and privacy among data subjects, the chapter also discusses inequalities within the research community, as they pertain to unequal access to social media data, unequal opportunities for digital methods skills development, and unequal opportunities to leverage digital methods analyses for career development. Overall, the chapter argues for a stronger connection of digital inequalities and digital methods.