Ethics and Internet Research: An Innovative Approach

One of the problems in conducting qualitative internet research is ethics: Are we studying texts or are we studying people? If it's the latter, how do you do your research in an ethical fashion? The Association of Internet Researchers has a lengthy treatise (beware, this is a big PDF), but I'm liking Arete's idea. She's doing a project on blogs as sites of healing, and as such, she wants to look at blogs whose authors have gone through traumatic personal experiences and blogged about them. She's asking for volunteers to let her use material on their blogs. It's, I think, a feminist way to go about a research design. I might use that later. '


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Internet research

Looks like an interesting text to explore-- thanks for the link. Without looking at it at all, I guess my personal take has always been that when we study things on the Internet, we're obviously studying both texts and people, but for the purposes of "human subject review," I think we're studying texts. If I quote from your blog or your web site, I'm quoting from a text you have published-- released onto the world-- and it's something that you intended to have other read. On the other hand, if I *make* you do something-- write an essay, take a survey, give blood, do a little dance-- then I am making you do something and I would need to have some approval from my institution. But I have to say I'm no expert at the requirements for human subject review... Anyway, I guess what I'm getting at is I think it's ethical to study just about anything on the Internet just as it is ethical to study just about anything in books and journals.

I agree

I agree with you, but there are many who do not. They talk about issues of privacy--which, as you point out, is odd in light of the fact that blogs are public. There's a term--"perceived privacy"--that people use to describe public (not password-protected) web spaces where people post under pseudonyms, and they perceive their words to be somewhat private. The major rule of research using human subjects is to do no harm, and some argue that once the person finds out the research has been published or is underway, he/she could suffer emotional harm.

My question is, how do you get a consent form signed if the person refuses to give you his or her real name--only the handle on his or her blog?

danah's comments

See also danah's comments on blogs as spaces that are not safe. They're not about privacy, really, but should be considered when doing internet research.

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