Mini journal logo  Home Issue Contents All Issues

A Protocol for When Social Media Goes Private: Studying archaeological or heritage discourses in closed Facebook groups

Katherine Davidson, Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer

Cite this as: Davidson, K., Graham, S. and Huffer, D. 2024 A Protocol for When Social Media Goes Private: Studying archaeological or heritage discourses in closed Facebook groups, Internet Archaeology 67.


Our major project explores the discourses that surround the buying and selling of human remains over social media. We discuss the research ethics framework established in Canada by the 'Tri-Council' research agencies as it pertains to studying social media in general. Issues of privacy and consent are paramount. Human remains trading happens in both public and private social media. We detail the process we went through, and the protocol that we evolved as a result, for studying private social media posts in closed Facebook groups. This process, protocol, and rationale may be useful for other researchers studying how archaeology and cultural heritage are framed or discussed in these venues. What people say in public is not what might be said in private, and researchers need ethical approaches to study such discourses.

  • Google Scholar
  • Keywords: : social media, research ethics, protocol, human remains, Facebook
  • Accepted: 27 March 2024. Published: 29 April 2024
  • Funding: This article draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
  • PDF download (main article text only)

Corresponding author: Shawn GrahamORCID logo
Carleton University

Katherine DavidsonORCID logo
Carleton University

Damien HufferORCID logo
University of Queensland/Carleton University

Full text

Anagnostou, M., and Doberstein, B. 2024 'Exotic Pet Trade in Canada: The Influence of Social Media on Public Sentiment and Behaviour', Journal for Nature Conservation 77, 126522.

Beauregard, C.P. 2022 'Bone Home: Why SkullStore and the Prehistoria Museum on Dundas East Make up 'the World's Weirdest Recycling Center.'', Toronto Star, March 13, 2022. [Accessed 13 March 2022].

boyd, d., and Crawford, K. 2012 'CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR BIG DATA: Provocations for a Cultural, Technological, and Scholarly Phenomenon', Information, Communication and Society 15(5), 662-79.

Charmaz, K. 2017 'The Power of Constructivist Grounded Theory for Critical Inquiry', Qualitative Inquiry 23(1), 34-45.

Davidson, K., Graham, S. and Huffer, D. 2021 'Exploring Taste Formation and Performance in the Illicit Trade of Human Remains on Instagram.' in N. Oosterman and D. Yates (eds) Crime and Art: Sociological and Criminological Perspectives of Crimes in the Art World, Cham: Springer International Publishing. 29-44.

Denham, J. 2020 'Collecting the Dead: Art, Antique and 'Aura' in Personal Collections of Murderabilia', Mortality 25(3), 332-347.

D'Ignazio, C. and Klein, L.F. 2020 Data Feminism, Cambridge; MIT Press.

Eseonu, T. and Okoye, F. 2023 'Making a Case for Afrofuturism as a Critical Qualitative Inquiry Method for Liberation', Public Integrity.

First Nations Information Governance Centre 2023 'OCAP. The First Nations Information Governance Centre' [website], [Accessed 26 February 2023].

Gennaro, M. 2024 'Federal Judge Rules against Meta in Data Scraping Case', Courthouse News Service, January 23, 2024. [Accessed 25 January 2024].

Graham, S., Huffer, D. and Simons, J. 2022 'When TikTok Discovered the Human Remains Trade: A Case Study', Open Archaeology 8(1), 196-219.

Graham, S., Davidson, K. and Huffer, D. in prep 'Behind Closed Doors: The Human Remains Trade within Private Facebook Groups'.

Government of Canada 2022 'Launch of TCPS 2: CORE-2022 (Course on Research Ethics)', The Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE), January 27, 2022.

Hicks, D. 2020 The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, London: Pluto Press.

Huffer, D. and Graham, S. 2023 These Were People Once: The Online Trade In Human Remains, and Why It Matters?, New York: Berghahn.

Huffer, D., Wood, C. and Graham, S. 2019 'What the Machine Saw: Some Questions on the Ethics of Computer Vision and Machine Learning to Investigate Human Remains Trafficking', Internet Archaeology 52.

Hughes, C.E., Bright, D.A. and Chalmers, J. 2017 'Social Network Analysis of Australian Poly-Drug Trafficking Networks: How Do Drug Traffickers Manage Multiple Illicit Drugs?', Social Networks 51, 135-47.

Latonero, M. 2011 Human Trafficking Online: The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds, Social Science Research Network.

Marsh, T.D. 2015 The Law of Human Remains, August 11, 2015, Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company, Wake Forest University, Legal Studies Paper No. 2646184.

Meta Platforms Inc v. Bright Data Ltd. 2024 'Case: 3:23-cv-00077-EMC Order denying Meta's motion for partial summary judgment; and granting Bright Data's motion for summary judgment', United States District Court, Northern District of California No. 75, 105, January 23, 2024.

Monahan, K.P. 2017 'Critical Inquiry and Inquiry-Oriented Education', UNESCO MGIEP. [Accessed 10 January 2024].

Olteanu, A., Castillo, C., Diaz, F. and Kiciman, E. 2019 'Social Data: Biases, Methodological Pitfalls, and Ethical Boundaries', Frontiers in Big Data 2.

Paul, K.A. 2018 'Ancient Artifacts vs. Digital Artifacts: New Tools for Unmasking the Sale of Illicit Antiquities on the Dark Web', Arts 7(2), 12.

Pereira, G. and Moreschi, B. 2021 'Artificial Intelligence and Institutional Critique 2.0: Unexpected Ways of Seeing with Computer Vision', AI and Society 36(4), 1201-1223.

Richardson, L-J. 2018 'Ethical Challenges in Digital Public Archaeology', Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology 1(1), 64-73.

Richardson, L-J. and Almansa-Sánchez, J. 2015 'Do You Even Know What Public Archaeology Is? Trends, Theory, Practice, Ethics', World Archaeology 47(2), 194-211.

Schwartz, O. 2019 'Instagram's Grisly Human Skull Trade Is Booming', Wired UK, July 18, 2019. [Accessed 1 January 2021].

Simpson, L.B. 2011 Dancing on Our Turtle's Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence, Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

Stoll, S. and Kath, R. 2023 'Harvard's Morgue Scandal Is Part of 'a Much Larger Story' in Trading Human Remains', NBC Boston [blog], September 14, 2023. [Accessed 10 January 2024].

Tri-Council: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada 2022 Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. [Accessed 10 January 2024].

Washington College of Law 2020 'State Burial Laws Project', American University Washington College of Law [website] [Accessed December 29, 2020].

Internet Archaeology is an open access journal based in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

Terms and Conditions | Legal Statements | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Citing Internet Archaeology

Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.