Social Research Ethics


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Jeffrey Stanton.

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Social Research Ethics

  2. 2. The Potential <ul><li>Aviators, Moguls, Fashionistas and Barons: Economics and Ownership in Second Life (Ondrejka) </li></ul><ul><li>The Unbearable Likeness of Being Digital: The Persistence of Nonverbal Social Norms in Online Virtual Environments (Yee et al.) </li></ul><ul><li>Coming of Age in Second Life – An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human (Boellstorf) </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Potential <ul><li>As a tool: Coordination within/among research teams, visualization of datasets, remote contact with real-world research participants </li></ul><ul><li>As a behavioral venue (in-world behavior): Small group research, prosocial behavior, counter-productive/deviant behavior, behavioral economics </li></ul><ul><li>As an emergent milieu: Community formation, virtual property rights, simulated violence, alternative/multiple identities </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Pitfalls <ul><li>The popularity of virtual worlds is so new that it presents unfamiliar ground for most researchers </li></ul><ul><li>Proportionally few seasoned social researchers involved in this, partly due to technical challenges of sampling, data collection </li></ul><ul><li>Research ethics regulatory bodies’ (e.g., U.S. IRBs) are unfamiliar with virtual worlds, thus may be too lenient or too strict </li></ul><ul><li>Participants in virtual worlds not used to being studied as formal research participants </li></ul>
  5. 5. U.S. Research Ethics Context <ul><li>National Research Act (1974) </li></ul><ul><li>Belmont Report (1978) </li></ul><ul><li>Principle: Respect for persons </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Technique: Informed consent </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Principle: Beneficence </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Technique: Risk-Benefit Analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Principle: Justice </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Technique: Fairness in sample selection </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Virtual Worlds Ethics Exercise <ul><li>Topic: Job interviews conducted in Second Life </li></ul><ul><li>Outcome variables: Interviewee satisfaction, reputation of company, likelihood of accepting offer </li></ul><ul><li>Independent variables: Gender of avatar, mode (text or voice chat), attire of avatar </li></ul><ul><li>On a piece of paper, describe the key points of your research design: how to get participants, what to say to them, how to run the study, what to say afterwards </li></ul>
  7. 7. Ethics Challenges in Virtual Worlds <ul><li>No real-world, physical encounter between researcher and subject </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty of identity verification for eligibility and fitness </li></ul><ul><li>Ease of researcher entry into intact social environments </li></ul><ul><li>Skew in accessibility of virtual worlds to diverse subject populations </li></ul><ul><li>Analogies: Mail surveys, telephone interviews </li></ul>
  8. 8. Case Study <ul><li>Public notice of the study: contacted the researcher </li></ul><ul><li>Teleport invitation to research site </li></ul><ul><li>Preliminary instructions </li></ul><ul><li>Manipulation </li></ul><ul><li>Post-manipulation survey (web) </li></ul><ul><li>Return of avatar to research site </li></ul><ul><li>Closing comments </li></ul>
  9. 9. Discussion of Case Study <ul><li>Your comments: What could have been done better? What was missing? What should have been left out? What did those researchers do right? </li></ul>
  10. 10. Virtual World Subjects’ Bill of Rights <ul><li>The right to know I am a subject </li></ul><ul><li>The right to know you as the researcher </li></ul><ul><li>The right to know who approved your study </li></ul><ul><li>The right to learn the risks </li></ul><ul><li>The right to learn the benefits </li></ul>
  11. 11. Bill of Rights Part II <ul><li>The right to know why my avatar was chosen </li></ul><ul><li>The right to participate as my avatar </li></ul><ul><li>The right to protect my group(s) </li></ul><ul><li>The right to teleport </li></ul><ul><li>The right to be left alone </li></ul>
  12. 12. 1. The right to know that I am a subject <ul><li>If you obtain data from me in a virtual world for research purposes, I have a right to know that I am in your study. (Exception for unobtrusive study of public behavior // the threshold for unobtrusiveness is asking a research question) </li></ul>
  13. 13. 2. The right to know you as a researcher <ul><li>If I am a subject, you the researcher must represent yourself accurately so that I can confirm your identity. Although this obligation need not compel the researcher to use a photorealistic avatar, the subject must receive sufficient information to trace the avatar back to a specific person working in the context of a specific host institution. </li></ul>
  14. 14. 3. The right to know who approved your study <ul><li>Before participating in your study, I have the right to know what ethics body, if any, reviewed your research design. </li></ul>
  15. 15. 4. The right to learn the risks <ul><li>You must warn me if the study includes psychologically distressing material, if there is a risk that my avatar or I may be identified, if there may be a tangible or intangible costs to participation, or if other risks to me or my avatar exist. </li></ul>
  16. 16. 5. The right to learn the benefits <ul><li>I want to know why my avatar’s participation in the study is desirable, even if the benefits to me are indirect. </li></ul>
  17. 17. 6. The right to know why my avatar was chosen <ul><li>If researchers contacted my avatar, I want to know how they got my avatar’s name and what makes my avatar eligible to participate. </li></ul>
  18. 18. 7. The right to participate as my avatar <ul><li>If you recruit me for your virtual world study, I have the right to respond to your study in the identity and role I have selected for my avatar. In short, researchers should rarely admonish an avatar to “respond as you would in real life.” </li></ul>
  19. 19. 8. The right to protect my group <ul><li>If you are studying my social group, I have the right to protect the integrity and continued existence of my group. In principle, if members of the group object to the researcher’s presence or use of the group for research, those members should have veto power. In practice, it may be impractical for researchers to obtain active consent from every member of a large group, or from a group that has inactive members. </li></ul>
  20. 20. 9. The right to teleport <ul><li>When participating in your study, I reserve the right to teleport out of the research situation if I am uncomfortable with any of the procedures or questions. </li></ul>
  21. 21. 10. The right to debriefing <ul><li>If you use deception or disguise of purpose in the study, I deserve to learn about it afterwards. </li></ul>
  22. 22. 11. The right to be left alone <ul><li>Following my avatar’s participation in your study, whether I completed it or not, I have the right to not be contacted again by the researchers. </li></ul>