[Air-l] Science News Online: The Social Net

Mary L. Gray mlgray at ucsd.edu
Wed Jun 5 14:51:10 PDT 2002

"Jenny Stromer-Galley" <jstromer at asc.upenn.edu> wrote:

> "Glaser considers this technique [of posing as curious and naive visitors to a
> white supremacist chat room] ethical because participants were contacted
> in a public forum, weren't coerced, addressed common topics of conversation
> in their chat rooms, and were not personally identified by the researchers.
> Surreptitious interviewing might also yield new insights into such denizens
> of the Internet as child pornographers and illegal weapons traders, Glaser
> says."

> I know AoIR has worked on ethics guidelines. What do you think about
> Glaser's practices?

i don't think the final version of AIR's guidelines are out?

there is something that strikes me as interesting about Glaser's stand and
my own yearnings to feel Glaser's is an ethical practice:  embedded in it is
the warrant that i *need* to employ this method to get at information that's
otherwise inaccessible to me if i reveal my researcher status.

if i choose groups such as rape survivors or parents grieving the loss of
their children, it changes the valence of things--it no longer seems as
ethical to lurk and chat covertly with these folks as it did with white
supremacists. so, that tells me i think it's less ethical to deceive some
groups of people over others? the logic breaks down for me as a researcher
and i realize that my urges to go "undercover" have more to do with not
wanting (or feeling i have the resources) to build rapport with some people
as much as other people.

...but, that's the rub of ethics isn't it? ethics challenge us to think
about our systems of 'right and wrong' and do the 'right thing' when the
'wrong thing' would actually (seem to) be more productive. in Glaser's case,
i think expediency is a driving force of the methods used and the ethical
concerns followed rather than led the process...but, i also think this is
how ethics tend to develop and unwind in most research.

...there are so many good examples of past ethnographers who have finessed
their way into circles of street gangs, Japanese internment camp members,
drug dealers, etc. without having to circumvent ethical practices/traditions
of disclosure. the questions for me have become how and when do we feel we
need (or should be allowed) to walk the edge of ethics? what is it about our
connections with communities via online media that sends us searching for
exceptions to or rewritings of ethical rules we would not question if
researching offline?

> And why doesn't John Bargh know about AoIR's ethics
> guidelines :-) . . . .

that is a great question! i hope our guidelines get out there and start
making it to discussions at the AAA, ASA,4S, and other places we all do

thanks for throwing out this question, Jenny!
Mary L. Gray <mlgray at ucsd.edu>
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
vox:   502/451.5003
mail:   PO Box 4004, Louisville, KY 40204

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