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

Nancy Baym nbaym at ku.edu
Wed Jun 5 12:20:23 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.

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

Mary Gray responded:

>if i choose groups such as rape survivors or parents grieving the loss of
>their children, it changes the valence of things...
>...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'...

I have argued before that hate groups and other 'anti-social' online 
groups problematize the ethics questions, particularly inasmuch as 
one believes that subjects have a right to know that they are being 
research subjects.

I resolve this dilemma by thinking not in terms of standardized 
protocols for what constitues ethical research practice, but in terms 
of whether research serves "the greater good." It is very difficult 
to explain how deceiving rape survivors and greiving parents is 
important to bettering the human condition. Is the knowledge gain 
really going to outweigh potential damage done to those studied? On 
the other hand, it's much easier to argue that deceiving people whose 
aim is to cause suffering for others (as is the case with hate groups 
or pedophiles) can be justified if that deception results in 
knowledge that could lessen that suffering. Personally, I am grateful 
that there are people out there, most of whom are not academics, who 
are infiltrating hate groups under false pretenses and often at risk 
to their own life in order to educate the rest of us about what they 
are up to (plug for the southern poverty law center goes here).

That is how I see the ethical issues here. Whether a university 
review board would back me up on this is another issue. The scholars 
I've known who did this kind of work figured they were doing it on 
their own and didn't expect the university to stand by them with 
legal support if they needed it.
Nancy Baym 	http://www.ku.edu/home/nbaym
Communication Studies, University of Kansas
102 Bailey, 1440 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
Association of Internet Researchers: http://aoir.org

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