[Air-l] ethics question in researching the internet

Charles Ess cmess at lib.drury.edu
Fri Jun 7 08:51:11 PDT 2002

There seems to be general agreement that if the group's site and\or chatroom
is clearly identified as a public site, these are roughly analogous to a
public space in which observation without informed consent is allowable.
On the same analogy, however, _recording_ and\or publishing information made
available in that public space - e.g., crafting a log of notes, including
verbatim quotes from a website or chatroom, reproducing the webpage in a
book for publication, etc. - is _not_ allowable without either informed
consent and-or anonymization of the original text and author(s).
Some persons and-or national traditions are more strict than others.  The US
tends to be more lenient, especially if any risk to the subjects of research
is minimal (and all possible steps are taken to minimize that risk) while
the benefit of such research is great.  On the other hand, the NESH
guidelines - as noted in the aoir ethics working committee report - are more
insistent on protecting the rights of the authors-subjects of material found
on the web, even at the cost of limiting or making certain kinds of research
You might also have a look at the University of Bristol form for proposed
research projects - i don't have the URL right with me, but you should be
able to find it fairly easily.  (If not, please e-mail me and I'll get it to
you next week when I'm back in my office.)

Another - though, of course, somewhat contested - consideration: what rights
and-or other protections would _you_ want accorded to you, if you were the
subject(s) of research, and someone else were the researcher?

Charles Ess
Chair, aoir ethics working committee

-----Original Message-----
From: bakera at ohiou.edu
To: air-l at aoir.org
Sent: 06.06.02 13:32
Subject: [Air-l] ethics question in researching the internet

In regard to the case of an online hate group discussed,  I have a 
general question:  When is an online group "public"?  Would a group 
with no special registration requirement qualify?  Would a group 
where any identifyer can serve as a userid fit, or one that doesn't 
check email addresses?  In any or all of the cases which might be 
"public", is it okay to research them without (a) announcing the 
intent, and (b) without seeking permission of all of the members? 
Are archives of public communities exempt from consent, a question 
already raised?

I have read the latest draft of the AOIR guidelines and still seek 
input from members on these questions.  Thanks.

--Andrea Baker
      Ohio University

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