Internet research ethics


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Which ethics apply to Internet research? If the Internet is conceptualised as space, then social science research ethics apply. However, if it is conceptualised as text/art, then the ethics of the humanities are more relevant.

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  • Rebecca is a second-year postgraduate in IET. In October 2005, she began work on a PhD focusing on identity and learning in asynchronous online conferences. Her search for data and participants has involved a study of online research ethics.
  • Principles behind most ethical codes. Autonomy Those with diminished autonomy are entitled to special protection. Autonomy is reflected in the principle of informed consent and in the protection of privacy and confidentiality. Beneficence Maximise benefit for the subject. Minimise possible harm. All research should have some possibility of benefit. Justice Ensure that certain groups do not bear disproportionate risks while others reap the benefits.
  • Marty Rimm’s ‘Carnegie Mellon Study’ . Secretly captured records of computer users.
  • Elements appear in this order: Pepys’ text Student text Pepys’ picture Student picture Pepys’ diary: It’s considered ethically fine to quote this very personal section from Pepys’ diary, although it was written in code and manifestly not intended for publication. On the other hand, quoting from this student’s publicly available blog may involve ane Ethics Committee and informed consent.
  • Human subject research: Guardian blog: building a community of Guardian readers Podcasts: individuals regularly putting point to the world Jacob: Creating a sense of himself as an Internet user Slashdot: Building relationships through responses Nintendogs: Investing time and energy in online creation Avatars and pseudonyms: Need to protect both real identities and pseudonyms. People invest in pseudonyms If we conceptualise the Internet as space, then the conventions of human subject research apply and there is a perceived need to protect identities and obtain informed consent
  • Textual research: Guardian blog: online extension of printed material Podcasts: copyright issues. Creative input. Jacob: Children’s writing. New way of studying this. Slashdot: Reference article Nintendogs: Gaming software, legitimate subject for study Avatars: Artwork. Collaborative work, each user treating avatar as their own. If we consider the Internet to be text or art, then the ethical conventions of the humanities come into play and it is considered correct to identify all authors
  • Rights of the human subject primary, those of the researcher as secondary.
  • Related to ownership and to creative rights.
  • Internet research ethics

    1. 1. Internet Research Ethics Rebecca Ferguson, IET
    2. 2. Do no harm <ul><li>Autonomy </li></ul><ul><li>Treat people with respect </li></ul><ul><li>Beneficence </li></ul><ul><li>Maximise benefit. Minimise harm </li></ul><ul><li>Justice </li></ul><ul><li>Who does the work? Who benefits? </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    3. 3. Online ethics: classic references <ul><li>Cyberporn </li></ul><ul><li>Marty Rimm, Time magazine </li></ul><ul><li>JennyMUSH </li></ul><ul><li>Elizabeth Reid: Informed Consent in the Study of Online Communities: A Reflection on the Effects of Computer-Mediated Social Research </li></ul><ul><li>Rape in cyberspace </li></ul><ul><li>Julian Dibbell (1988) My Tiny Life </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    4. 4. Ethical advantages <ul><li>Access to voices that would not be heard </li></ul><ul><li>Comprehensive and representative </li></ul><ul><li>Benefits of reflecting on own experience </li></ul><ul><li>Clarification and empowerment in interviews </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson So, how do we act ethically online?
    5. 5. Ethical or non-ethical? Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson ‘ It's amazing how appealing things like cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry and checking email become when you're supposed to be studying.’ ‘ Back to my father, who I found in such pain that I could not bear the sight of it without weeping.’
    6. 6. Internet as space Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    7. 7. Internet as text Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    8. 8. Social science ethics <ul><li>Privacy, confidentiality </li></ul><ul><li>Reasons for selecting subjects </li></ul><ul><li>Misrepresentation: backstage areas </li></ul><ul><li>Informed consent: age, competency, typist problem </li></ul><ul><li>Sampling: location, gender, race </li></ul><ul><li>Follow up in fluid communities </li></ul><ul><li>Data impoverished by anonymity </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    9. 9. Humanities ethics <ul><li>Identify and locate sources </li></ul><ul><li>Reasons for selecting media </li></ul><ul><li>Who do you credit for an avatar? </li></ul><ul><li>Does text belong to individuals or communities? </li></ul><ul><li>Copyright, intellectual property rights </li></ul><ul><li>Data protection </li></ul><ul><li>Data impoverished by avoiding online sources </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    10. 10. Competing ethical systems <ul><li>Human rights / ownership rights </li></ul><ul><li>Anonymity / copyright </li></ul><ul><li>Private data / public data </li></ul><ul><li>Validating bloggers or multinationals </li></ul><ul><li>Not just one lens / one metaphor </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    11. 11. Questions to ask <ul><li>First principles: is anyone being harmed? </li></ul><ul><li>Publicly accessible or publicly distributed? </li></ul><ul><li>Statements of intention or gatekeepers? </li></ul><ul><li>Do they consider their environment private or public? </li></ul><ul><li>Who is being addressed? </li></ul><ul><li>Do they understand caches and search engines? </li></ul><ul><li>A continuing dialogue... </li></ul>Internet Research Ethics - Rebecca Ferguson
    12. 12. Rebecca Ferguson IET, The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA <ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>