Digital Ethnography

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, anthropologists face immediate limitations on their research. The Covid-19 restrictions mean ethnography is no longer an ethically appropriate research strategy. Furthermore, anthropologists, as social scientists, must remain cognizant of the wellbeing of the groups they are striving to understand. Although ethnographers are used to instability and disruptions in their fieldwork, recent times have created an unprecedented halt in their work. With human interaction and connections being a key factor in ethnography, Covid-19 leaves many questioning how to confront a disruption of this scale. Especially during this time of disruption, anthropology is ever more crucial. Anthropology can aid in understanding changing dynamics in social life and can aid in developing better policies for combating pandemics. Anthropology leads to a better understanding of the ethical and moral dilemmas that stem from the pandemic.

Digital ethnography has emerged as a very useful research strategy to maintain safety. With increasing technological innovations, digital ethnography can be a beneficial substitution to face-to-face encounters. Digital ethnography involves research in a digital space. Ethnographers can conduct fieldwork through online observation, online interviews, analysis of video data on public spaces, and evaluation of archival data and surveys. The field site can also be comprised of social media platforms. For example, Facebook and Twitter are useful for studying subgroups and sets of cultures since they contain millions of people from a diverse network. These platforms allow ethnographers to classify and sort through data by limiting searches by date or key words. Additionally, hashtag ethnography has emerged as unique way to study current events and social movements. Numerous social media platforms allow ethnographers to analyze a specific hashtag and organize their findings. Most of the same subjects of traditional ethnography can be studied through digital ethnography. Digital ethnography is most commonly combined with traditional ethnography to form the most holistic study of a subject.

The biggest challenge for digital ethnographers is learning the language of the natives on a digital field site. For ethnographers who grew up in the age of technology and are digital natives, this does not pose as much of a challenge. However, for people who are not digital natives, it can take time to adapt to the social customs of online platforms. Digital ethnographers can collect data through screen capture software, website archiving tools, servers, and content management systems. However, it is important to remain ethical and cognizant of private sites and personal data. It is always important to notify hosts or users when conducting research and to ask permission to analyze their site. Although digital ethnography is relatively new, it opens the door to further opportunities to analyze human complexity in a safe and effective way. Digital ethnography provides flexibility to conduct ethnography from any location and can provide new perspectives on lifestyles across the world.

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