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					Internet Research Ethics:
Guidelines and Strategies
Dr. Charles Ess
cmess@drury.edu
Distinguished Research Professor
Interdisciplinary Studies /
Philosophy & Religion
Drury University, Springfield, Missouri
Professor II - Applied Ethics Programme
Norwegian University of Science &
Technology
Trondheim
A little background …
 Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE
 …*




   * Support for this research comes from the National Science Foundation, Ethics and Values in
                                                     Science Program, award number 0646591.
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
A little background …
   Developing survey data on IRBs and IRE …
    (Buchanan and Ess / NSF SES-0646591)
What to do?

      AoIR ethics working committee. 2002. Ethical
       decision-making and Internet research.
      Elizabeth Buchanan and Charles Ess. In press.
       Internet Research Ethics: The Field and Its Critical
       Issues. In K. Himma and H. Tavani (eds.),
       Information and Computer Ethics. John Wiley &
       Sons.


   Reviewed / discussed as follows …
What to do?
  Reviewed / discussed as follows:

  0. Preliminaries - Ethics?
  1. Discipline? Who is the participant?
  2. Venue/environment?  Expectations of privacy 
     requirements for anonymity, confidentiality, informed
     consent?
  3. What ethical expectations are established by the
     venue?
  4. Public-private / sensitivity? (Sveningsson 2004)
  5. Risks to Participants
  Risks to participants - minors and other “special
     populations”
  6. Anonymity / Confidentiality
  7. Issues of Informed Consent
  8. Methodologies and Ethics
0. Preliminaries
 “Ethics”? (Cf. AoIR 2002, 4f.)

   A. Ethical Pluralism - middle between ethical
      relativism // ethical monism/dogmatism

   B. Cross-cultural awareness
      -- including differences between
      utilitarian (U.S. / U.K.) //
           deontological (E.U., Scandinavia) approaches

   C. Guidelines - not “recipes”
      -- Aristotle’s notion of phronesis, practical
      judgment
1. Discipline? Who is the participant?

A. Medical / social sciences: participant as
   research subject
    Human Subjects Protections:
   anonymity, confidentiality, informed
   consent
B. Humanities: poster as author
    copyright protections, fair use
   provisions

   (see Ess 2007, 489)
2. Venue/environment?  Expectations of
    privacy  requirements for anonymity,
    confidentiality, informed consent?
          Homepages
       Blogs
       Google searches
     Email (personal e-mail exchanges)
     Listservs (exchanges and archives)
     USENET newsgroups
     ICQ/IM (text-based)
     iChat, CUSeeMe, and other audio-video exchanges
     Chatrooms, including IRC
     MUDs/MOOs
     gaming
     images and other forms of multi-media presentation (webcams, etc.)
      (some forms of) Computer-Supported Cooperative Work systems

                                                     (AoIR 2002, 5f.)
3. What ethical expectations are established by the
    venue?

      Is there is a posted site policy that establishes specific expectations – e.g., a
       statement notifying users that the site is public, the possible technical limits
       to privacy in specific areas or domains, etc.

      Is there a statement affiliated with the venue (chatroom, listserv, MOO or
       MUD, etc.) indicating whether discussion, postings, etc., are ephemeral,
       logged for a specific time, and/or archived in a private and/or publicly-
       accessible location such as a website, etc.?

      Are there mechanisms that users may choose to employ to indicate that their
       exchanges should be regarded as private – e.g., “moving” to a private
       chatroom, using specific encryption software, etc.? – to indicate their desire
       to have their exchanges kept private?


 One broad consideration: the greater the acknowledged
    publicity of the venue, the less obligation there may
        be to protect individual privacy, confidentiality,
                           right to informed consent, etc.
4. Public-private / sensitivity? (Sveningsson 2004)
                           Non-sensitive
 Large chat room;
 users informed from the outset
 that exchanges are not
 confidential; anonymity-privacy
 protected  no need for informed                    Private (smaller
 consent (Kraut et al 2004)                      community / country)

      Public                        Small GLBT listserv in
                                    Norway: informed consent
      (larger                       requested from group;
      community /                   posters anonymized; direct
      country)                      quotes only with
                                    permission (Bromseth
                                    2005)

                                                                 Off-limits?
                                                                 “Pro-anas,”
                                                                 AIDS/HIV”
                            Sensitive
                                                                 listservs …
5. A. Risks to Participants
  Technical risks - lack of security, etc.
  Legal risks - failing to understand legal
    requirements of copyright, data protection
  Personal risks - lack of protection from
    harassment, abuse, deception;
    lack of debriefing possibilities;
    lack of protection from exposure (violation of
    privacy  harm to reputation and self-esteem);
    lack of knowledge about the potential for exposure
    (“email is private, right?”);
    lack of protection for the most vulnerable -
    children and adolescents, the elderly or
    institutionalized, those with disabilities, serious
    psychiatric conditions
                              (Mann 2003, 43f. in Ess 2007, 493)
5. B. Risks to participants - minors and
other “special populations” (B&E 2008, 13)
Researchers have a greater responsibility to
 protect such participants from harm, e.g.

   the adolescent girl who posted her home
     address and times when her parents would
     be away (Ridderstrøm 2003);

   homepage / blog notes indicating low self-
    esteem, explicit fantasies of suicide -
    followed by discovery that one such author
    had in fact committed suicide: should the
    researcher have intervened? (Stern 2004,
    2005)
 6. Anonymity / Confidentiality
 (Buchanan & Ess 2008)
If anonymity is promised / required:
    Relationship between online persona and offline identity?

  * use of pseudonyms, paraphrasing of original postings?
  ( methodologies? e.g., discourse analysis and others that require
  exact quotes, context)

  * data security issues (encryption and other forms of protection
  for databases vs. hacking, data corruption, etc.)

  * what is an IP address?
   Dynamically assigned, therefore not Personal Information
     (Google)
   Whether static or dynamic, belongs to the category of
     Personal Information and thus must be protected (EU)
7. Issues of Informed Consent
(Ess 2007, 495)


    When informed, some participants may craft their
     contributions in hopes of getting quoted
     non-disclosure required? (Reid 1996, 171)
7. Issues of Informed Consent
(Ess 2007, 495)

    Possible range of options for informed consent (Lawson
      2004, 93):
       1. consent to having their nickname and communicative text
        used for data analysis only(no publication of name or text);
       2. consent to having either their nickname or text published in
        an academic work, but never together (i.e., no identifiers);
       3. consent to having either their nickname or text published in
        an academic work, but never together (i.e., no identifiers) and
        providing they get to see the ‘write up’ prior to publication;
       4. consent to having both their nickname and text published in
        academic work, thereby being credited as the authors of their
        own words; or
       5. consent to having both their nickname and text published in
        academic work, thereby being credited as the authors of their
        own words, providing they get to see the ‘write up’ prior to
        publication. The last two options deal directly with the issue of
        CMC copyright.
8. Methodologies and Ethics
(Buchanan and Ess 2008)

    Participant-observation /discourse analysis heighten
      the importance of privacy, informed consent, and
      attending to the ethical issues surrounding the use
      of participants’ texts:
    As participant-observation emphasizes more
      personal, empathic relationship  increases
      researchers’ inclination to accord higher degrees
      of privacy protection (“Golden Rule”)
      + pragmatic recognition that participants can
      easily disconnect from online engagements,
      increasing the importance of a “trusted, reciprocal
      exchange” (feminist) Oliver & Lunt 2004, 107)
8. Methodologies and Ethics
(Buchanan and Ess 2008)

    Humanities approaches - poster as author,
      seeking publicity…

    A.   All materials published online are
         considered copyright by the author under
         U.S. law
    B.   Citations and references guided by “fair
         use” considerations -
         which are unclear for digital materials.
Case
(Details used by permission: identities anonymized; identifying
details blurred into generalities)

A young PhD student is interested in exploring a theory /
hypothesis concerning the attitudes in play among members of a
white supremacist group. The researcher plans to analyze their
postings online, and then follow up the analysis with interviews.

The theory / hypothesis in question is one that would in all
likelihood be insulting or offensive to the participants, as it
fundamentally calls into question how far their views are well-
founded.
Case
The researcher's methodological and ethical concerns are as
follows:

       should the researcher publish direct quotes from the online
       postings – and if so, will the researcher need to get
       consent, coupled with promises to insure anonymity and
       protection?

       should the researcher mention the working hypothesis,
       especially if it is bolstered by the researcher's text analysis
       of online postings, to the researcher's interviewees?

       the researcher's own safety vis-à-vis participants who may
       find the work offensive, insulting, etc. – and whose
       proclivities towards violence in defense of their views is
       often noted.
Case
Annette Markham:

Anonymizing participants – paraphrasing postings?
   One solution offered (which i don't favor, cause i like actual texts) is
   to modify the words of the participants in any published piece so
   that the eventual text would not be linkable to an actual identity.
   Or to aggregate the words/texts so that an individual phrase is never
   tied to an individual participant, but the general gist is conveyed to
   the reader. Advantage is protection of privacy.

    Disadvantage is that if one is doing close textual analysis and
    adhering to some method standards, this would be sloppy or
    even unacceptable for some traditional discourse analysis
    scholars. So the analysis can't really focus as much on the
    individual as it can make general comments about a group. I
    would have trouble with this in my own work; others might not.
Case
Annette Markham:

Methodological-ethical:
   keep the hypothesis / interpretations on "the back burner" in
   order to be fair to the interviewees. This will also suspend at
   least some of the ethical concerns evoked by the possibility of
   informing the interviewees of the working hypothesis -
   this may also mitigate some of the concern for the researcher's
   safety.
Case
Annette Markham:

Concealing the researcher's goals / identity / safety?
   From my perspective, respect of persons is not solely achieved
   (or even best achieved) by transparency. In cases of risk to the
   participants or risk to the researcher if identities are revealed,
   obscurity is important, even respectful. So [the researcher]
   need not reveal [the researcher's] identity if this is
   not comfortable.
   Once [the researcher] publishes, however, someone could
   connect the dots, no matter how carefully the data or the
   study is disguised.

   And: it's unlikely that the participants would read any research
   publication?
Case
Annette Markham:

Concealing the researcher's goals / identity / safety?
       While concealing [the researcher's] identity is important, It
       may not be necessary to conceal [the researcher's] goal in doing
       research. [The researcher] can be vague about the specific
       purpose of research. There's much precedence for this in
       sociology.
       The lines are blurred between what is ethically acceptable and
       what is not, but typically, the cases against vagueness are valid
       if the anonymity of participants is not upheld, or if
       participating in the project left a scar or hurt the participant in
       some way (as when a researcher designs a study ostensibly
       about "self esteem among teens" and then targets the talk about
       thoughts of suicide and gets the person all worked up but then
       provides no follow up counseling or debriefing session).
Case
Annette Markham:

Concealing the researcher's goals / identity / safety?
       [The researcher] could, though, frame the study in general
       terms, wanting to understand the person behind the texts,
       understand why they believe what they believe, or say what
       they say. The general, "I want to learn your story" is a much
       better approach. It's also true, so it's not deceptive practice.
       If it was me doing the study? I would even mention that I
       am somewhat suspicious of or judgmental of white
       supremacists, and I want to hear their side of the story or
       understand why. I would tell them I'm going to do a study of it
       for a university class project. I would assure them that they can
       back out any time. I would be vague about my level of
       education (PhD sounds ominous). I would talk a lot about
       getting their story, or letting them tell their history. Then I
       would sit back and listen.
Case
Annette Markham: Ethics in IRE:

For me, ethics are emergent, not pre-defined. For me, the types of
questions I ask, the way I do an interpretation, and the way I
represent the participants in the written report is as much an
ethics issue as the initial approval of study by the IRB or by the
participants. If participants happen to read it and perceive it as
fair, they're less likely to sue. If they see you as just voicing
your side of the story, they might not feel compelled to hurt you
personally in revenge. So the worry about safety? It's certainly
not something to dismiss, but it should be something that is
avoidable if the research design and conduct is fair, if the
participants feel valued and not used, and if the
analysis/interpretation is well defended (by virtue of being a
good argument in the classic argumentation sense)

				
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