Social steganography: Linguistic and cultural methods of encoding. Song lyrics, inside jokes, double-speak, code words. Accessible to subculture, meaningless to outsiders
In fact, it makes more sense to classify the distinction between public and private as a continuum rather than a dichotomy.
How does the concept of “public space” apply to the internet? This question is complicated by a number of factors. Federal regulations permit direct observation of public behavior, even of children, to be exempt from IRB review if the researcher does not interact with participants. By this logic, observing teens interacting on a subway or in a park would be exempt.
I find the critiques made by this group of scholars compelling, especially in regards to clearly public spaces on the web. However, varying affordances leads to a range of risks for digital research participants. For instance, research in certain online contexts carries more potential to create risks to privacy than others, with the ever-present flux of shifting technologies. If we are concerned about protecting privacy and consent of online research participants, where can we find appropriate strategies?
Dina Pinsky, "Digital Ethnography and the IRB"
Associate Professor of Sociology, Arcadia University,
1. Explore relationship between research ethics
and qualitative online methodologies
2. Raise questions rather than determine answers
3. Inspired by experience gaining IRB approval for
teens and social media project
4. Question IRB policies and practices re digital
research, while appreciating IRB work
Interviewed high school students about digitally
mediated communication with peers
Special interest in social media and gender
Follow on social media: Facebook, Instagram,
Do not interact with participants online
n=57 for interviews, 55 for online observations
More than two months of revisions and discussions
Concerned with issues of internet privacy, consent,
and mandatory reporting
As if I would be observing diary entries or private
Would I ask participants to post on social media
that I am observing?
Would have prohibited my research
Teens exert control over online privacy through
social steganography (boyd 2015)
Difficult to discern “true meaning” of
intentionally obscure posts, tweets, comments
Privacy level of platform level of social
steganography, type of username, amount of
E.g.Twitter vs. Facebook: impression management
Result: agency over presentation of self &
Insufficient compensation for work and legal
Biomedical sciences bias
Under-representation of ethnographers
Protocols vs. inductive design of ethnographic
The gap between regulatory definition of research
practices and ethnographic methods has grown wider
with the advent of qualitative digital research.
Game changer for IRBs
Lack of clarity in OHRP guidelines
Difficulty of relying on precedents
Thus no best practices
Ethical decision making may exceed IRB protocols
Exploratory – ethical decision making after data
Ever-changing technological affordances, privacy
agreements, and cultural practices
Lack of agreement on classifying online spaces as
public or private
1. All searchable online content is public data
2. Internet users as amateur artists, online content
as cultural text
3. Digital ethnography: online content is social
interaction and potentially sensitive due to
searchability and traces
Users know their words are read by the public
Exempt from IRB: researchers analyze digital
interactions without interacting with research
participants, and de-identify data
direct observation of public space
or archival research of publicly available
Therefore not human subjects research
Humanities scholars: online material like published
Cultural artifacts rather than social interactions of
Internet users like amateur artists rather than
human subjects (Bruckman 2002)
No need for IRB review
Humanities scholarship should be included in
discussions of internet research ethics (White 2002).
AoIR 2012 Guidelines (Markham and Buchanan 2012)
“Perceived privacy” - expectations of privacy,
control of personal info, and protection from harm
Shifting and Byzantine privacy agreements on
social media platforms
Increasing awareness about internet surveillance in
media and warnings to adolescents
Thus, is perceived privacy on the decline?
Is it reasonable to expect privacy online?
My approach to social media research: subject to
IRB review even if no interaction
Varying degrees of privacy on internet
Searchability and digital traces
Confidentiality even more crucial with minors
Yet online research is not more risky than
U.S. IRB standards compared to other countries?
More restrictive, because of litigiousness?
“Sensitive data” = culturally variable, e.g. Danish Data
Protection Agency (Lomberg 2012)
Adolescents lumped in with younger minors
Yet, research shows 14 and older similar to adults in ability to
understand complex material and be informed (Battles 2010,
Santelli et al. 2003)
Lack of ethical clarity ambiguity in field and
Digital ethnography, internet archive, or textual analysis?
Questions or comments?
Dina Pinsky firstname.lastname@example.org