[Air-L] Anonymizing Twitter handles

Deen Freelon dfreelon at gmail.com
Fri Apr 14 06:02:38 PDT 2017

This could be an opportunity to educate your IRB on social media 
research, as not all IRBs understand the implications of what they ask 
researchers to do (I speak from personal experience here). As others 
have stated, anonymization of Twitter data is both difficult 
logistically and can impede analysis and presentation of results. At the 
same time, even with such a public platform, these concerns must be 
balanced against users' rights and interests. But there are ways other 
than anonymization to accomplish this.

In our recent report on the Black Lives Matter movement's use of social 
media, we took three steps to address the privacy and intellectual 
property concerns of the users whose tweets we cited as examples:

  * Posting links to tweets rather than reproducing their full text.
  * Linking only to tweets that had collected a minimum of 100 retweets.
  * Linking only to tweets posted by users who had at least 3,000
    followers or were Twitter-verified.

We feel these steps helped achieve a balance between our interests as 
researchers, the audience's interest in understanding the phenomenon, 
and participants' interests in not having their content appropriated 
inappropriately. You can read more about these steps on p. 86 of the 
report, which is available here: 


On 4/13/2017 11:11 PM, Ye Na Lee wrote:
> Dear subscribers to Association of Internet Researchers,
> I am currently going through IRB process for a research on Twitter data and
> I was told to anonymize Twitter handles completely. Are there any online
> programs with which I could anonymize usernames? I don`t think I should
> create fake Twitter handles for every single tweet that I quote on my
> paper. I`d really appreciate any suggestions on anonymizing Twitter
> handles!
> Thank you in advance!
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Deen Freelon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
School of Communication, American University
Office: McKinley 325
freelon at american.edu | http://dfreelon.org | @dfreelon 
New report: Beyond the Hashtags: #Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter, and the 
Online Struggle for Offline Justice <http://www.cmsimpact.org/blmreport>

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