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Netnography and Research Ethics: From ACR 2015 Doctoral Symposium


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Netnography and Research Ethics: A Presentation from the Association for Consumer Research 2015 Doctoral Symposium

Published in: Data & Analytics

Netnography and Research Ethics: From ACR 2015 Doctoral Symposium

  1. 1. Ethical Concerns in Netnography and by extension other types of online data collec7on and cultural research Robert Kozinets York University Toronto, Canada Some thoughts for the ACR Doctoral Symposium, 2015, Bal7more MD
  2. 2. An Already Poisoned Well • LeBesco (2004) reported that, in a single month, eight researchers tried to gain access to a par7cular online community site and all but one were rejected by the group. • Hudson and Bruckman (2004) relate that people in chat-­‐rooms reacted with hos7lity when they were aware of being studied by researchers • When 766 people online were given the opportunity to become part of the research, how many volunteered? • ‘Many list owners and newsgroup members deeply resent the presence of researchers and journalists in their groups’ (Johns, Chen, and Hall 2003, p. 159)
  3. 3. Complica7ng ma_ers…. • “At least for the foreseeable near future, researchers must operate flexibly to adapt to con7nual shics in percep7ons, unstable terms of service, radically dis7nc7ve na7onal and cultural expecta7ons for privacy, and s7ll steady growth of Internet use.” • “To complicate ma_ers further, as a lived concept, privacy is inextricable from its sister concepts: harm and vulnerability. To understand how poten7al research par7cipants conceptualize one requires considera7on of all three, separately and together, in context’ – Anne_e Markham 2012, p. 337).
  4. 4. • Ethical concerns of privacy, A Balancing Act confiden7ality, appropria7on, and consent (Kozinets 2002a, 2006a) • Add to this ‘fundamental human rights of human dignity, autonomy, protec7on, safety, maximiza7on of benefits and minimiza7ons of harms, or, in the most recent accepted phrasing, respect for persons, jus7ce, and beneficence’ (Associa7on of Internet Researchers Ethics Working Group 2012, p. 4).
  5. 5. When Is Online Research Human Subjects Research? • According to Title 45, Part 46 (2009), which governs IRBs in the US, human subjects research is research in which there is an interven7on or interac7on with another person for the purpose of gathering informa7on, or in which informa7on is recorded by a researcher in such a way that a person can be iden7fied through it directly or indirectly • Par7cipa7ve netnography fits • However, if you argue the Internet is more a text than a social space, it does not fit (Basse_ and O’Riordan 2002) Observa7onal netnography doesn’t fit? Or does it?
  6. 6. Risk According to US Federal Code Title 45 Regula7ons define minimal risk as meaning that ‘the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort an7cipated in the research are not greater in and of themselves than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of rou7ne physical or psychological examina7ons or tests’ (Protec7on of Human Subjects, 2009).
  7. 7. • This defini7on is obviously tailored to a world of physical medical experimenta7on, not ethnographic or other online data explora7on • It does not par7cularly help us to assess the impact of publica7on and exposure. • However, might we compare social media exposure to being highlighted and featured in tradi7onal media? – Does this protect netnography (and other data collec7on) through Freedom of Speech/ The Press, and Fair Use types of laws – Does this open netnography to global libel and slander laws? • Title 45 makes it clear we are to consequen7ally weight probable risks against likely benefits – Ethics are not about avoiding risks
  8. 8. The Digital Double • Is the text or data truly separate from the person? • ‘An essen7al element of informa7onal self-­‐determina7on is the control the individual has over the informa7on that is available about her in the Internet environment, also known as her digital double’ (Buitelaar 2014, p. 266) • Models of individuals built out of data • Used as proxies for individuals • An ‘extension’ of the offline iden7ty and personality • Digital doubles are iden77es
  9. 9. P(seudonym)-­‐ Cracking • Decloaking anonymized/ pseudonymized online research has been a popular pas7me for almost two decades – Julian Dibbell’s Rape in Cyberspace (Village Voice 1993) • Within days of its public release, a large and anonymized research dataset of a par7cular Facebook cohort was ‘cracked’ and iden7fied, without ever looking at the data itself (Zimmer 2010) • Computer science students and other technomages enjoy decoding and decryp7ng • Scholars in computer science even published papers on the robust de-­‐anonymiza7on of large social network datasets (Narayanan and Shma7kov 2009).
  10. 10. Conclusion: Recognizing Con7ngencies and Complexity and Requiring Adapta7on • The Internet is not a place or a text • Not either public or private • Does not contain simply data but digital doubles of our iden77es and selves • It is not one but many types of social interac7on • It harbours many dynamic expecta7ons and norms regarding privacy and its viola7on • This is an area needing much more empirical study
  11. 11. Fabrica7on • All scien7fic knowledge portrayal is constructed • We have become inured to processing par7cular conven7onal forms of research representa7on – Thus they look correct and thus legi7mate • However, they are all equally fabrica7ons • Ci7ng Jane Goodall, Markham reminds us that ethnographers are interpre7ve authori7es, but that all of our representa7ons are par7al and problema7c • Markham, Anne,e N. (2012), “Fabrica9on as Ethical Prac9ce,” Informa(on, Communica(on, and Society, 15:3, 334-­‐353.
  12. 12. Fabrica7on • Suggests that opening and experimen7ng with our online ethnographic representa7ons is a prac7cal way to protect privacy • Crea7ve and bricolage-­‐style altera7on of “data” • Various kinds of composite accounts (personas) and/or representa7onal interac7ons • Fic7onal narra7ves • Layered accounts • Some techniques associated with remix culture • Also experimenta7ons, collabora7ons
  13. 13. Five general principles and procedures 1. Being There: not merely accurate iden7fica7on, but ac7ve personal branding 2. Being Honest: full disclosure and informa7on through social media and/or research web-­‐page (e.g., profile hat?) 3. Being Considerate: asking appropriate permissions, consent forms for interviews/interac7onal data collec7ons, cloaking data/iden77es as required 4. Giving Credit: ci7ng where appropriate, credi7ng where appropriate 5. Being Innova7ve: where appropriate, considering remix, experimenta7on Netnographic Research Ethics Redefined
  14. 14. Helpful Guidelines and Other Resources • White paper/reports – American Associa7on for the Advancement of Science (Frankel and Siang 1999) – Associa7on of Internet Researchers Ethics Working Group 2002, 2012) – American Psychological Associa7on (see Kraut et al. 2004) • Two journals largely dedicated to these issues: – Ethics and Informa7on Technology, – Interna7onal Journal of Internet Research Ethics (online) • Edited and co-­‐authored volumes – Boellstorff et al. 2012; Buchanan 2004; Ess 2009; Johns et al. 2003; Krotoski 2010; McKee and Porter 2009; Thorseth 2003). • However, as the authors of the AoIR Ethics Working Commi_ee Report (2012) state, “no official guidance or ‘answers’ regarding internet research ethics have been adopted at any na7onal or interna7onal level’