Ethics of Blog Reviewing

In a recent post with many thoughtful comments following, Jill ponders the ethics of having students write blog reviews after one person whose blog was being reviewed protested to the assignment. Ethics in blog research is an issue we need to talk about, and I've been learning from Lilia's thoughts and Alex's as well. Jill says,

In time, I hope that the general public becomes more aware of that to publish something on the internet means to publish it, and that unless it's password protected it can and will be read by anyone.

What do you think?

I'm in agreement with most of the people in the thread and with Jill--when you blog, you are publishing. The Association of Internet Researchers has this huge PDF tome on the ethical issues in internet research, and one is perceived privacy. From the tome:

What are the initial ethical expectations/assumptions of the authors/subjects being studied?

For example: Do participants in this environment assume/believe that their communication is private? If so – and if this assumption is warranted – then there may be a greater obligation on the part of the researcher to protect individual privacy in the ways outlined in human subjects research (i.e., protection of confidentiality, exercise of informed consent,
assurance of anonymity - or at least pseudonymity - in any publication of the research, etc.).
If not – e.g., if the research focuses on

publicly accessible archives;

inter/actions intended by their authors/agents as public, performative

(e.g., intended as a public act or performance that invites recognition
for accomplishment), etc.;

venues assigned the equivalent of a “public notice” that participants and their communications may be monitored for research purposes;

then there may be less obligation to protect individual privacy.

A big question in internet research is: Are we studying texts, or are we studying people? The answer makes all the difference. Perhaps there's the rub--articulating a rationale for why studying weblogs is studying texts, not people. For my part, I know my blog is reviewed or discussed in some way in at least two classes. It doesn't bother me at all; they can say whatever they want. They are studying text, as far as I'm concerned, but then again I don't blog about my personal life very much. If I were studying a blog like Jasper's, I'd definitely see it differently and would feel unethical if I didn't have informed consent.

Addendum: When starting my first project on gender and blogging, I had to get IRB approval (a.k.a. Human Subjects Review). They did not see what I was doing as studying texts at all. I understand to some extent; I was doing a survey, after all. But what is most interesting to me is that, when I explained that I was giving a survey to the members of Blog Sisters and that I might quote material posted to the site, they required me to get a letter of consent from the site administrators of Blog Sisters. They said that a web site is no different from a physical site to them (for example, if someone wanted to do research in a writing center or in a museum, they'd have to get that research site consent letter.). It strikes me as strange, but I'd like to see what others think.


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Who owns our experiences?

Just a quick take on this, triggered by your comment.

I think this ties into the ongoing debate concerning such questions as the right to things published at or in certain computer games. Not to mention a recent debate about teaching material developed and stored online at our college. There is an increasing tendency to wish to "own" not only the formally published material, but also free-form collaborative works and informal publications. Where the lecture, the conversation or the fantasies formerly had value only in a limited time, they can now be retrieved and re-sold, as they are put into writing. This changes the quality of our informal information.

I think it is weird that "blogsisters" wanted you to go through the site administration, and that they consider themselves similar to a physical space, but if you consider that they control all that informal information, and your research means somebody else can benefit from what they control, then it makes a whole lot more sense.


Sorry if I wasn't clear

The Institutional Review Board at my university (Human Subjects Review Board) was the organization that considered Blog Sisters equivalent to a physical space and insisted that I get permission from the administrators. The administrators themselves seemed to think that was rather odd, actually, and that the writing was public.

With all this perceived privacy business, I'm reminded of Glovefox over at Blog Sisters. She kept a funny, smart personal blog with a pseudonym, but somehow her friends, family, and coworkers found out about it, and she was shocked and mortified, since she had thought her blog was private (private-in-public, blending into the crowd). She posted on Blog Sisters about what a terrible experience this was for her, but I can't find the post, as the blasted archives got eaten by Blogger. The outcome was a password-protected blog.

Private-in-public sounds abou

Private-in-public sounds about right. It's weird, but the idea of strangers reading my blog bothers me less than people I know in real life coming across it without my knowing about it.

(I've been thinking about this lately because I'm about to let a real-life friend know about the blog -- a strange thing.)


Friends and Strangers

You'll have to let me know how that goes, how the friend reacts to your blog. Strangers are fine with me, and so are friends. The only potential lurkers who cause me a little anxiety are family and students. I don't write anything I would want to keep a secret from them, but still, it's a little weird. I haven't told my family about my blog, although they could find it easily on Google, obviously. I guess I'm just distant like that.

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