Skip to main content

Big Data and Democracy: Facts and Values

  • Ashley E. Gorham (a1)

The incongruity between traditional research standards and the realities of “big data” raises novel ethical questions for political science researchers. Data’s status as a commodity largely held by private companies only further confuses matters. Drawing on Max Weber, this article attempts to shift the current ethical discussion away from the individualistic concern for privacy toward the more collective framework of democratic values.

Hide All
Anderson, Chris. 2008. “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.” Wired, June 23. Available at
Barocas, Solon, and Nissenbaum, Helen. 2014. “Big Data’s End Run around Anonymity and Consent.” In Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good: Frameworks for Engagement, ed. Lane, Julia, Stodden, Victoria, Bender, Stefan, and Nissenbaum, Helen, 4475. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bond, Robert M., Fariss, Christopher J., Jones, Jason J., Kramer, Adam D. I., Marlow, Cameron, Settle, Jaime E., and Fowler, James H.. 2012. “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization.” Nature 489 (7415): 295–8. DOI: 10.1038/nature11421.
Bond, Robert, and Messing, Solomon. 2015. “Quantifying Social Media’s Political Space: Estimating Ideology from Publicly Revealed Preferences on Facebook.” American Political Science Review 109 (1): 6278. DOI: 10.1017/S0003055414000525.
boyd, danah, and Crawford, Kate. 2012. “Critical Questions for Big Data.” Information, Communication & Society 15 (5): 662679. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2012.678878.
boyd, danah. 2014. “What Does the Facebook Experiment Teach Us? Growing Anxiety About Data Manipulation.” Medium, July 1. Available at
Clark, William Roberts, and Golder, Matt. 2015. “Big Data, Causal Inference, and Formal Theory: Contradictory Trends in Political Science?: Introduction.” PS: Political Science & Politics 48 (1): 6570. DOI: 10.1017/S1049096514001759.
Crawford, Kate, and Schultz, Jason. 2014. “Big Data and Due Process: Toward a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms.” Boston College Law Review 55 (1): 93128. Available at
Custers, Bart. 2016. “Click Here to Consent Forever: Expiry Dates for Informed Consent.” Big Data & Society 3 (1): 16. DOI: 10.1177/2053951715624935.
Evans, Heather K., Cordova, Victoria, and Sipole, Savannah. 2014. “Twitter Style: An Analysis of How House Candidates Used Twitter in Their 2012 Campaigns.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47 (2): 454–62. DOI: 10.1017/S1049096514000389.
Gartner. 2017. “IT Glossary: Big Data.” Available at
Jamal, Amaney A., Keohane, Robert O., Romney, David, and Tingley, Dustin. 2015. “Anti-Americanism and Anti-Interventionism in Arabic Twitter Discourses.” Perspectives on Politics 13 (1): 5573. DOI: 10.1017/S1537592714003132.
Kannan, Vibha. 2015. “Penn Researcher Refuses to Analyze Ashley Madison Data.” Daily Pennsylvanian, August 30. Available at
Kaufman, Jason. 2008. “Michael—We Did Not Consult…” October 2, 9:25 p.m. Blog comment. Available at
King, Gary, Pan, Jennifer, and Roberts, Margaret E.. 2013. “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression.” American Political Science Review 107 (2): 326–43. DOI: 10.1017/S0003055413000014.
Kitchin, Rob, and McArdle, Gavin. 2016. “What Makes Big Data, Big Data? Exploring the Ontological Characteristics of 26 Datasets.” Big Data & Society 3 (1): 110. DOI: 10.1177/2053951716631130.
Kramer, Adam D. I., Guillory, Jamie E., and Hancock, Jeffrey T.. 2014. “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (24): 8788–90. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320040111.
Lewis, Kevin, Kaufman, Jason, Gonzalez, Marco, Wimmer, Andreas, and Christakis, Nicholas. 2008. “Tastes, Ties, and Time: A New Social Network Dataset Using” Social Networks 30 (4): 330–42. DOI: 10.1016/j.socnet.2008.07.002.
Marwick, Alice E., and boyd, danah. 2014. “Networked Privacy: How Teenagers Negotiate Context in Social Media.” New Media & Society 16 (7): 1051–67. DOI: 10.1177/1461444814543995.
Metcalf, Jacob, and Crawford, Kate. 2016. “Where are Human Subjects in Big Data Research? The Emerging Ethics Divide.” Big Data & Society 3 (1): 114. DOI: 10.1177/2053951716650211.
Nissenbaum, Helen. 2004. “Privacy as Contextual Integrity.” Washington Law Review 79: 119–58.
Pariser, Eli. 2011. The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think. New York: Penguin.
Venter, J. Craig, et al. 2004. “Environmental Genome Shotgun Sequencing of the Sargasso Sea.” Science 304 (5667): 6674. DOI: 10.1126/science.1093857.
Verma, Inder M. 2014. “Editorial Expression of Concern and Correction: Experimental Evidence of Massivescale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (29): 10779. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1412469111.
Weber, Max. 1989. “Science as a Vocation.” In Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation,” ed. Lassman, Peter and Velody, Irving with Martins, Herminio; translated by John, Michael, 331. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Whitley, Edgar A., Kanellopoulou, Nadja, and Kaye, Jane. 2012. “Consent and Research Governance in Biobanks: Evidence from Focus Groups with Medical Researchers.” Public Health Genomics 15 (5): 232–42. DOI: 10.1159/000336544.
Zimmer, Michael. 2010. “‘But the Data Is Already Public’: On the Ethics of Research in Facebook.” Ethics and Information Technology 12 (4): 313–25. DOI: 10.1007/s10676-010-9227-5.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 25
Total number of PDF views: 188 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 689 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 10th October 2017 - 21st March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.