Introducing my PhD: ‘Traversing the Ethical Badlands of Social Media’


In 2017/18, after 30 years of working in the education sector as a learning support assistant and school librarian, I chose to expand my horizons and joined the Library Information Science (LIS) course at City University London. Only one eye-opening year later, I graduated with an MSc in Library Science which enabled me to fulfill my ambition of becoming an Academic Liaison Librarian. It could be argued that the CityLIS MSc has fulfilled its purpose, after all, my employment status has improved, I am better informed and I met some inspiring people. Nonetheless, I am restless and still seek more.

It would seem that you can leave CityLIS but it never leaves you.

Looking back, I vividly recall the first two books that I borrowed from the library, Cataloging the World (Wright, 2014) and The 4th Revolution (Floridi, 2016) both shaped, inspired and influenced my initial perspective of information gathering philosophies and information ethics and their relevance to LIS. These, combined with the document theories of Briet (Buckland, 2017), Buckland (2015), and Otlet (Wright, 2014) have merged with the many holistic LIS digital world concepts of the taught CityLIS programme and have influenced my research pathways.  Each online user history is a footprint of our searches, outputs and interactions which document our information’s ethical ‘onlife’ persona (Floridi, 2016), for which we all bear self-regulatory responsibilities. 

To me, the term information ethics is a magical minefield of philosophies and contradictions that require further exploration after my CityLIS journey. There are many questions that I still need to investigate.  For instance, what are the wider philosophies regarding ethics surrounding information-seeking behaviours? How does this blur when using an online persona?  Do we as a society all subscribe to the same interpretations? What is the impact of harmful user interaction and what does the social media realm bring to the table when discussing the above?  Finally, how do we teach our young digital students to stay well informed and safe from online harm?

As such, I am pleased to introduce my Ph.D., Traversing the Ethical Badlands of Social Media, which will build upon my DITA module assignment, ‘Making Sense of Social Media: A Chaotic Landscape’ (Killoran, 2018) and aims to go beyond its original assignment scope and time limitations. I will initially examine what is meant by the term ‘information ethics’ and the various philosophies that surround it discussed above. Next, it will investigate how pupil/student aged (7-18) digital information explorers; view, source, provide and self-regulate their information-seeking habits. Finally, as government edicts, teachers and lecturers are at the forefront of guiding and shaping how parents and digital explorers are influenced and view the online information world. During this study, it will also be necessary to include their positions, practices, and perspectives to give a complete overview of the landscape. For it is only by seeking to establish current concerns and responsibilities of information providers, governments and educators that we can draw holistically approached conclusions as to what dilemmas our young information seekers face going forward as they mature.

I am looking forward to starting my research journey and will share some of my insights along the way and we shall see where it will take us as just like the onlife world (Floridi, 2016), things are always changing!

Petra Killoran


Buckland, M. (2015). Document Theory: An Introduction. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Feb. 2020].

Buckland, M. (2017). Reflections on Suzanne Briet. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Feb. 2020].

Floridi, L. (2016). The 4th revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wright, A. (2014). Cataloging the world. New York: Oxford University Press.


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