Anything Goes?! Ethical Dimensions of Online Research


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My presentation at the Graduate School Media and Communication Colloquium (November 26, 2013) - please share if you care :-)

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Anything Goes?! Ethical Dimensions of Online Research

  1. 1. Anything Goes?! Ethical Dimensions of Online Research Nele Heise | Hans Bredow Institute Hamburg GMaC Colloquium, University of Hamburg November 26, 2013
  2. 2. Agenda 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Research ethics & ethical standards Ethical aspects throughout the research process »Hybridity« & particularities of online research Informed Consent Publication Outlook Heise | Online Research Ethics 2
  3. 3. Research ethics? Search for criteria to assess and decide upon »right behavior« »Ethics are guidelines and principles that help us to up-hold our values – to decide which goals of research are most important and to reconcile values and goals that are in conflict. Ethical guides are not simply prohibitions; they also support our positive responsibilities.« Diener/Crandall (1978: 3) Central dimensions of research ethics (shared) value base, responsibility, ethical decision-making Recommended Reading Diener & Crandall 1978; Williams, Rice & Rogers 1988; Strohm Kitchener/Kitchener 2009; Fenner 2010 Heise | Online Research Ethics 3
  4. 4. Ethical standards and research participants  Voluntariness of participation as prerequisite  Principle of »informed consent«  Participant protection: Anonymity, Privacy, Do no harm principle (avoiding potential risks)  Legal context: personal rights (of third parties); data security and privacy protection (e.g. »Bundesdatenschutzgesetz«); (right of) informational self-determination as a normative concept, an applied practice, required competence (Schmidt 2012); rights of third parties, e.g. Terms of Use Heise | Online Research Ethics 4 4
  5. 5. (Some) ethical aspects throughout the research process Recruitment Data Collecting Data analysis Publication Access to certain »spaces«, areas Anonymization strategies Visibility/authenticity strategies Data security / storage voluntariness / informed consent Do no harm principle Access to Participants (Inter)action / behavior vs. Artifact ??? Anonymity vs. Authorship Transparency | Disclosure | Reciprocity Heise | Online Research Ethics 5
  6. 6. »Hybridity« of online research contexts Research contexts hybrid contexts Use contexts • ethical standards of research • technical / methodological requirements of research • research experience / practices and focus/subject • • • • • technical & social frames of media practices characteristics of online communication terms of use, providers’ rights ethical argumentation, position, paradigm fidelity & responsibility • ethical principles of online communication • (in)formal rules of play (e.g. netiquettes) • media literacy/competence Heise | Online Research Ethics 6
  7. 7. Ethically relevant dimensions of online research  Web as a »science laboratory«: comprehensive logging and storage, richness of data, accessible archive of communication and interaction processes o Deeper insights into previously inaccessible areas, Lebenswelten, activities (e.g. mapping of networks); ambivalence of certain methods, e.g. data mining, log file analyses, profiling  informational constraints: disembodiment, virtualization (textuality); degree of social presence, anonymity (verification, identification/authentication) o Need to »produce« visibility of researchers, disclosure of research (e.g. »fake profiles«), passive forms of observation  (spatial/temporal) de-contextualization, global reach of research and data  Blurring boundaries of publicity and privacy (data, »spaces«) Heise | Online Research Ethics 7
  8. 8. Stakeholders of ethical decision-making Guidelines Code of Ethics Intermediaries Figure in: McKee/Porter (2009: 17) Heise | Online Research Ethics 8
  9. 9. Changing actor constellations Researcher(s)  Who interacts with whom/what? Intermediaries  Intermediaries implement their own values and control the horizon of possibilities  New dependencies  Terms of Use as a replacement for informed consent? User(s) Heise | Online Research Ethics 9
  10. 10. Two important ethical questions 1. When – and by whom – is consent necessary throughout the research process ? 2. As regards publication: what degree of data anonymization is necessary? Shameless self-promotion: Heise/Schmidt 2014; Heise 2013; Schmidt 2009 Heise | Online Research Ethics 10
  11. 11. Necessity of Informed Consent 1. What degree of publicity/privacy can be assumed?     Explicitly articulated expectations and self-descriptions (e.g. forums) Evaluating the users‘ abilities and competences to assess certain aspects Criteria: accessibility, sensitivity (data/information) Prioritization of the user perspective 2. Research interest: Do you focus on behavior/action or artifacts? 3. Are providers (of what kind) involved?   Access to communicative spaces (Terms of Use, access restrictions) Automated collection of platform data Heise | Online Research Ethics 11
  12. 12. Necessity of Informed Consent Visual heuristic to decide upon the necessity of informed consent; as in: McKee/Porter (2009: 132/136) Heise | Online Research Ethics 12
  13. 13. Context matters  Problem: Blurring boundaries of public/private  Context (e.g. the »imagined audience«) influences produced data and users‘ expectations  Recording content/data as a (potential) violation of the »contextual integrity« (Nissenbaum 2004), i.e. social norms – or even Terms of Use  Aggregation, combination, processing of content/data as a (potential) violation of privacy (boyd 2010); informational selfdetermination, autonomy of participants? Heise | »big data« & Forschungsethik 13
  14. 14. Context matters Problem of »frictionless sharing« - what context? Heise | Online Research Ethics 14
  15. 15. Publication of Findings  Do no harm principle and privacy protection (accounts for every type of publication, e.g. presentations)  Challenges, e.g. searchability and linkability of data across services and platforms, data persistence, variety of data formats  Differentiation: owner/author/originator vs. »normal« participants/users; aggregated vs. single data  Possible solutions: »Data Fabrication« (Markham 2012), visual paraphrases (W. Reißmann), word/tag clouds etc. Heise | Online Research Ethics 15
  16. 16. Publication of Findings Exemplary anonymization, see Heise/Schmidt (2014) Heise | Online Research Ethics 16
  17. 17. Instead of a conclusion … »There cannot be a blanket, whole cloth approach to Internet Research ethics. Contextual details matter, including: What … is the object of analysis of the study – texts, aggregated bits of information, or the persons themselves? What are the use expectations of the online site and of the online participants? What is the sensitivity of the information collected? What are the ages, geo-cultural-political affiliations, and/or technological expertise of the online participants? In what form are the researchers collecting data, and in what forms are they redistributing it? Is the researcher using real names or real user/avatar names, quoting passages, taking screenshots, etc.? And where will this material appear and to whom will it be accessible?« McKee/Porter (2009: 7f.) Orientation needed? ESOMAR Guidelines (, DGOF Guidelines (, AoIR recommendations (2013), ADM quality criteria (2011) Heise | Online Research Ethics 17
  18. 18. Outlook and Open End  With online research, ethical decision-making is more complicated, e.g. due to de-contextualization, global reach, crosslinking and persistence of data, legal insecurities  growing need to weigh technical feasibility and ethical tenability of online research  »old« questions regarding the »rightness«, responsibilities and consequences of research gain new relevance  Upcoming Challenges: o mobile devices; »Big Data«, geo-located data o research related »online spaces«, App-based research, utilization of APIs, design of research instruments/tools (opt-out/opt-in) o Combination of datasets, »frictionless sharing« Heise | Online Research Ethics 18
  19. 19. Thanks! Nele Heise, M.A. Hans Bredow Institute Hamburg @neleheise
  20. 20. References (1/2) ADM ARBEITSKREIS DEUTSCHER MARKT- UND SOZIALFORSCHUNGSINSTITUTE E.V. (2011): Positionspapier des ADM zu Kriterien zur Bewertung von Methoden der Markt- und Sozialforschung. (3.11.2013). BORGATTI, STEPHEN P.; MOLINA, JOSÉ LUIS (2002): Ethical and Strategic Issues in Organizational Social Network Analysis. In: The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 39(3), 337-349. Online unter: (3.11.2013). BOYD, DANAH (2010): “Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data.” Presented at WWW. Raleigh, North Carolina, April 29. (8.11.2013). BURGESS, JEAN; BRUNS, AXEL (2012): Twitter Archives and the Challenges of ›Big Social Data‹ for Media and Communication Research. In: M/C Journal, 15 (5). (3.11.2013). CAPURRO, RAFAEL (2003): Ethik im Netz. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag. CAPURRO, RAFAEL; PINGEL, CHRISTOPH: (2002): Ethical issues of online communication research. In: Ethics and Information Technology, 4(2002), 189-194. DIENER, EDWARD; CRANDALL, RICK (1978): Ethics in Social and Behavioral Research. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press. DÖRING, NICOLA (1999): Sozialpsychologie des Internet: die Bedeutung des Internet für Kommunikationsprozesse, Identitäten, soziale Beziehungen und Gruppen. Göttingen u.a.: Hogrefe. DZEYK, WALDEMAR (2001): Ethische Dimensionen der Online-Forschung. In: Kölner Psychologische Studien 6(1), 1-30. (3.11.2013). ESS, CHARLES (2007): Internet research ethics. In: Joinson, A.; Mckenna, K.; Postmes, T.; Reips, U. (Eds.): The Oxford handbook of Internet psychology (pp. 91–107). Oxford: Oxford University Press. EYNON, REBECCA; SCHROEDER, RALPH; FRY, JENNY (2009): New Techniques in Online Research. Challenges for Research Ethics. In: 21st Century Society 4 (2), 187-199. FENNER, DAGMAR (2010): Einführung in die Angewandte Ethik. Tübingen: Francke. FRAAS, CLAUDIA; MEIER, STEFAN; PENTZOLD, CHRISTIAN (2012): Online-Kommunikation. Grundlagen, Praxisfelder und Methoden. Wien: Oldenbourg Verlag. MANOVICH, LEV (2012). Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data (9.6.2013). MARKHAM, ANNETTE; BAYM, NANCY (Eds.) (2009): Internet Inquiry. Conversations about Method. Los Angeles u.a.: Sage Publications. HAMILTON, REBEKAH J.; BOWERS, BARBARA J. (2006): Internet Recruitment and E-Mail Interviews in Qualitative Studies. In: Qualitative Health Research, 16 (6), 821-835. HEISE, NELE (2011): Ethik der Internetforschung – Diskurs und Praxis. Eine qualitativ-heuristische Befragung deutscher Kommunikationsforscher. Master thesis, Erfurt. HEISE, NELE (2013): »Doing it for real«. Authentizität als kommunikationsethische Voraussetzung onlinebasierter Forschung. In: Emmer, M.; Filipovic, A.; Schmidt, J.-H.; Stapf, I. (Eds.): Authentizität in der computervermittelten Kommunikation. Weinheim: Juventa, 88-109.
  21. 21. References (2/2) HEISE, NELE; SCHMIDT, JAN-HINRIK (2014): Ethik der Onlineforschung. In: M. Welker, M. Taddicken, J.-H. Schmidt, N. Jackob (Hrsg.): Handbuch Online-Forschung. Köln: Herbert von Halem Verlag (= Neue Schriften zur Online-Forschung; Bd. 12). KÖHLER, BENEDIKT, BLUMTRITT, JÖRG (2010): Zehn Thesen zur Zukunft der Marktforschung. In: inbrief. Organ des Berufsverbandes Deutscher Markt- und Sozialforscher e.V. (August 2010). (5.11.2013). MCKEE, HEIDI; PORTER, JAMES (2009): The Ethics of Internet Research. A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process. New York u.a.: Peter Lang. MARKHAM, ANNETTE (2012): Fabrication as ethical practice: Qualitative inquiry in ambiguous internet contexts. In: Information, Communication & Society, 15 (3), 334-353. MARKHAM, ANNETTE; BUCHANAN, ELIZABETH (2013): Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (version 2.0). (3.11.2013). NISSENBAUM, HELEN (2004): Privacy as contextual integrity. In: Washington Law Review, 79(1), 119-157. ROBARD, BRADY (2013): Friending Participants: Managing the Researcher–Participant Relationship on Social Network Sites. In: Young, 21(3), 217–235. SCHMIDT, JAN-HINRIK (2009): Braucht das Web 2.0 eine eigene Forschungsethik? In: Zeitschrift für Kommunikationsökologie und Medienethik 11(2), 38-42. SCHMIDT, JAN-HINRIK (2012): Persönliche Öffentlichkeiten und informationelle Selbstbestimmung im Social Web. In: Schmidt, J.-H.; Weichert, T. (Eds.): Datenschutz (pp. 215-225). Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. STROHM KITCHENER, KAREN / KITCHENER, RICHARD F. (2009): Social Research Ethics. Historical and Philosophical Issues. In: Mertens, Donna M.; Ginsberg, Pauline E. (Hrsg.): The handbook of social research ethics (pp. 5-22). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. TADDICKEN, MONIKA (2009): Die Bedeutung von Methodeneffekten der Online-Befragung: Zusammenhänge zwischen computervermittelter Kommunikation und Datengüte. In: Jackob, N.; Schoen, H., Zerback, T. (Eds.): Sozialforschung im Internet: Methodologie und Praxis der Online-Befragung (pp. 91–107). Wiesbaden: VSVerlag. TADDICKEN, MONIKA (2012): Privacy, surveillance, and self-disclosure in the social web: Exploring the user's perspective via focus groups. In: Fuchs, C.; Boersma, K.; Albrechtslund, A.; Sandoval, M. (Eds.): Internet and surveillance: The challenges of web 2.0 and social media. New York: Routledge. 255-272. VIS, FARIDA (2013): A critical reflection on Big Data: Considering APIs, researchers and tools as data makers. First Monday, 10. doi: (8.11.2013). WILLIAMS, FREDERICK / RICE, RONALD E. / ROGERS, EVERETT M. (1988): Research methods and the new media. New York u.a.: Free Press. WOLFF, OLIVER JAN (2007): Kommunikationsethik des Internets: eine anthropologisch-theologische Grundlegung. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovač. ZIEGAUS, SEBASTIAN (2009): Die Abhängigkeit der Sozialwissenschaften von ihren Medien. Grundlagen einer kommunikativen Sozialforschung. Bielefeld: transcript. ZIMMER, MICHAEL (2010): »But the data is already public«: on the ethics of research on Facebook. In: Ethics and Information Technology, 12(4), 313-326.