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Virtual Ethnography

A Guide to Virtual Ethnography: How To Understand Life Stories From Facebook



Virtual ethnography is an emerging practice in qualitative research that allows the researcher to explore new areas of interest through social media. With virtual ethnography, researchers can effectively engage and access a target audience.


Using these platforms, researchers can access participants who may be hesitant about participating in face-to-face interviews or group discussions. Virtual ethnography comes from anthropology and refers to exploring unfamiliar cultures, values, and traditions using digital tools like blogs, Flickr accounts, video blogs, podcasts, and user-generated content. 


Virtual ethnography involves using software applications that allow you to connect with people you might not otherwise be able to reach. These applications will enable you to explore how people live their daily lives and collect data on their thoughts, opinions, habits, and activities independently and collectively.


Here we will explain virtual ethnography and how it works so you can apply this method effectively in your qualitative research projects.


Doing Virtual Ethnography on Facebook


 I want to answer how to do a virtual ethnography study when researching a netizen’s life story in their Facebook accounts. Here open-source data play a significant role in conducting virtual ethnography research. What needs to be done is to examine the various records of a person’s digital footprint in cyberspace when a person uses a real or fake identity.


Some social media platform that can be used as a first step in Facebook, where a netizen will share what he thinks every time he posts to the Facebook wall. Today, Facebook stores the data of a customer pretty well. Facebook is accused of being involved in a scandal of buying and selling data for political gain in a country.


Therefore, as virtual ethnography researchers, we can study the history of “what is thought” and “what is published” in cyberspace through the Facebook platform.


We can then learn about “social networks” in cyberspace through the friendships and groups he joins. It should also be understood that although a person has many friends on Facebook, up to thousands, only a few people will appear the status of his friends. 


The level of friendship that really “comments each other,” “likes each other,” and “shares each other.” It seems to be what causes a person not to see the status of thousands of friends on Facebook.

Moreover, researchers can find “what a person thinks” from reading their status and comments in several groups they have joined, both open and closed. 

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The virtual or digital ethnographer is to examine all the levels and, if possible, communicate with the netizen, will give value to the data obtained through virtual ethnography.


A researcher will collect the background, tendencies of thoughts or attitudes, and online social affiliations of an individual from the social network Facebook.


 Indeed, the three things are found when ethnography research is conducted in real life when a researcher is directly involved with the research object. 


Nevertheless, in cyberspace, engagements such as participant observation, diary or journal writing, and field notes emerge from the researcher’s experience in the field. 


However, in virtual ethnography, a person will not conduct research requiring him to be present at a research location for a relatively long time. He can follow life or an issue from cyberspace while drinking coffee at home or in his office.


First, you would need to sign up for a Facebook account. After creating an account, you can create a Facebook Page. Facebook pages post images, videos, and other types of content that your friends view and comment on. 


After creating a Facebook page, you can start creating posts on your page. The posts on your Facebook page can be images, videos, links, status updates, comments, or anything else your friends can see and interact with.


Facebook also has a feature that allows you to create Facebook groups. Facebook groups are used for conversations between a group of people and can be used for virtual ethnography. While creating posts on your Facebook page, you can add a link that leads your followers to another website.


You can embed YouTube videos, images, or other media types on your wall. The posts on your Facebook page and the links on your wall can be used for virtual ethnography. Just make sure you post material your followers can see and interact with.


Facebook also has a feature that allows you to create Facebook groups. Facebook groups are used for conversations between a group of people and can be used for virtual ethnography. – Second, you must link your Facebook page to your website. 


On your Facebook page, click on the “Settings” icon in the bottom right corner. From here, click on “subscribe to pages.” Click on the “edit” button next to your Facebook page. You should now see all the pages you have subscribed to on Facebook. 


On the next page, click on the “Settings” icon in the bottom right corner. From here, click on “API.” It would be best to be on the “API” page now.

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What is the benefit of doing Virtual Ethnography from Facebook?


Facebook has transferred real-world community patterns to cyberspace. Here, what is connected is a person’s common interests and background in reconstructing his digital social network. So, understanding online communities become important in virtual ethnography research.


Images will give various meanings to a person’s attitude in cyberspace. Those obsessed with up-to-date status always post their photos on their Facebook wall. On Facebook, a researcher can also get so many rows of data from pictures posted by someone.


From some I learned on Facebook content: a person will typically post happy news, memories of the past, and the bitterness of someone’s life, attitudes or responses to an issue, comment on current topics in real and virtual worlds, provoke others or situations, campaigning against something of interest that is the primary mission of the person present on Facebook.


For example, people post on Facebook: when they have a baby, are newly engaged or married, graduated from school or college, get happy news, congratulate colleagues, are somewhere they think should be posted, and indicate their social status.


How to collect data from Facebook?


We can then construct more complicated things about family information, a person’s social status, locations visited, and property owned. We can understand the data of an individual who is the target of virtual ethnography research.


From the aspect of attitude and level of behavior, we can find how he comments on an issue or social problem, both natural and digital. The tendency of political affiliation. Communication strategies in conveying an opinion. 


The community where he joins and expresses his views in cyberspace. This data will explain “what is thought” and “what is expressed” in cyberspace, responding to a situation.


Fanspage seems to be a digital office for a person to build a reputation in cyberspace. Fanspage has become a business empire for someone to start one’s socio-economic career in cyberspace. The role of the fan page also needs to get attention for virtual ethnography research through the Facebook platform.


 The better and more visitors or followers on their Facebook page, the more productive things they can produce from the results of their friendships with their fans on Facebook.


So, we can write someone’s life story only based on a virtual study of ethnography from the Facebook platform. However, the ethics issue rises to be important because if we do not do the consent form process. 


Then, our result does not get permission from someone who is the target of our research. However, suppose everyone has posted something on social media. In that case, it automatically becomes public property unless they confirm that there is a copyright issue in someone’s work on Facebook.

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Benefits of Virtual Ethnography


– Accessibility – People often shy away from traditional research methods because they are not socially acceptable. Virtual ethnography, however, allows researchers to collect data from individuals who may not have the opportunity or inclination to participate in traditional methods of research. 


By using social media platforms, researchers can reach out to communities that might not otherwise be accessible. Flexibility – Due to the flexible nature of virtual ethnography, researchers can collect data from various sources, including blogs, podcasts, and user-generated content. 


This makes the process more versatile than other methods of research that allow for only one type of media to be collected. – Cost-effectiveness – Traditional research methods tend to be more expensive than virtual ethnography, which means that virtual ethnography is an exceptionally cost-effective research method if traditional methods have been costly.


Limitations of virtual ethnography


– Confusion – Due to the anonymity of virtual ethnography, participants may feel confused or misled. Participants may think that they are communicating with a friend or associate when communicating with a researcher. 


Due to this confusion, participants may not be honest about their answers, which may skew the collected data. – Inexperience – Virtual ethnography is an emerging method of research. Participants may have less experience with virtual ethnography than with other research methods. 


This may cause some participants to be nervous or unsure how to communicate with researchers. – Discomfort – Virtual ethnography can sometimes feel awkward or uncomfortable for participants. Participants may dislike being recorded or be nervous about speaking out in public.




The virtual ethnography process relies on connections between Facebook pages and websites. These connections are made when you link your Facebook page to your website. You can also add Facebook content to your website or blog. 


When you link your Facebook page to your website or blog, you can use Facebook to extend your website or blog content. With virtual ethnography, you can collect data from various sources such as podcasts, videos, images, and blogs. 


This is helpful because you can collect data from various sources that may not be as accessible as traditional research methods. Data can also be collected from multiple participants, such as friends, family, or community members.

Kamaruzzaman Bustamam Ahmad

Kamaruzzaman Bustamam-Ahmad (KBA) has followed his curiosity throughout life, which has carried him into the fields of Sociology of Anthropology of Religion in Southeast Asia, Islamic Studies, Sufism, Cosmology, and Security, Geostrategy, Terrorism, and Geopolitics. KBA is the author of over 30 books and 50 academic and professional journal articles and book chapters. His academic training is in social anthropology at La Trobe University, Islamic Political Science at the University of Malaya, and Islamic Legal Studies at UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta. He received many fellowships: Asian Public Intellectual (The Nippon Foundation), IVLP (American Government), Young Muslim Intellectual (Japan Foundation), and Islamic Studies from Within (Rockefeller Foundation). He is based in Banda Aceh and can be reached at ceninnets@yahoo.com.au

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