[Air-l] Research ethics recap

david_eddy_spicer at harvard.edu david_eddy_spicer at harvard.edu
Tue May 7 07:55:24 PDT 2002

My thanks to all who responded to my query about ethical guidelines for
online discussion research. Below is a compilation of the sources mentioned
in the 5 replies, two of which were posted to the list as a whole. (I've
noted contributors' names at the end of this message, along with a key to
their contributions.)

* Discussions within AoIR
* Web resources
* Publications


* Discussions within AoIR

Charles Ess posted a helpful summary of the state of play within AoIR,
mentioning the Ethics Working Committee preliminary report of October,
2001, (see web resources) and a forthcoming matrix of the kinds of
questions that should be considered by "researchers and relevant oversight
bodies". Charles notes that he expects to post a draft to the list for
comments once the Spring term wraps up.

Charles and two others also mentioned the discussion that took place around
the preliminary report at the October 2001 AoIR conference. A summary of
this discussion, "Research Ethics in a Virtual World: Some Guidelines and
Illustrations," was written by Nicholas Jankowski and Martine van Selm:

One of the central debates, as Charles notes in his message, has to do with
the nature of informed consent, confidentiality and how one weighs
participant protections alongside the quality and potential impact of the
research. The debate here is between those who would advocate a more
"deontological" approach--in Charles's words "one less inclined to override
subjects' protections in the name of research goals and its ostensible
benefits"--and the "utilitarian" orientation that takes into consideration
factors that might, in some ways, take a less strict interpretation of
participant protections for the sake of research. During the October
conference, papers by Amy Bruckman, "Ethical guidelines: a strict
interpretation," and Susan Herrig, "Ethical challenges to doing research on
the Internet: the CMDA perspective" came to stand for the two ends of this

Amy Bruckman's guidelines can be found at:

Several also mentioned the guidelines developed by Storm A. King, published
in the issue of "Information Society" cited below, which take a more
utilitarian approach than the above. Vincent Dwyer sent the link below to
an abstract of the article, which includes an email link to King to request
the full article:

* Web resources

AoIR Ethics Working Committee preliminary report
The preliminary report includes a very helpful annotated bibliography in
Addendum IV.

AoIR Ethics Working Group
This site, supported by AoIR member Jeremy Hunsinger, serves as the Ethics
Working Group repository. It includes pdfs of 6 articles and helpful links
to other web resources compiled by the group leading up to the preliminary

* Publications

Yvonne Waern posted this reference to the list and offered to make her
report available to anyone interested:
Waern, Y. "Ethics in Global Internet Research." Report from the Department
of Communication Studies, Linköping University, 2001:3 [YW]
e-mail: yvonne.waern at tema.liu.se

Charles Ess and Lois Ann Scheidt mentioned the special issue of _The
Information Society_, vol. 12, issue 2, 1996. Specific articles noted in
that issue included (in order of appearance):
Thomas, Jim (1996a). Introduction: A debate about the ethics of fair
practices for collecting social science data in cyberspace. The Information
Society 12(2), 107-117.
King, Storm A. (1996). Researching internet communities: Proposed ethical
guidelines for the reporting of results. The Information Society 12(2),
[LS] [CE]
Waskul, Dennis and Mark Douglass (1996). Considering the electronic
participant: Some polemical observations on the ethics of on-line research.
The Information Society 12(2), 129-139.
Boehlefeld, Sharon Polancic. (1996). Doing the right thing: Ethical
cyberspace research. The Information Society 12(2), 141-152.
Herring, Susan C. (1996). Linguistic and critical analysis of
computer-mediated communication: Some ethical and scholarly considerations.
The Information Society 12(2), 153-168.
Reid, Elizabeth M. (1996). Informed consent in the study of on-line
communities: A reflection on the effects of computer-mediated social
research. The Information Society 12(2), 169-174.
Thomas, Jim (1996b). When cyber research goes awry: The ethics of the Rimm
"Cyberporn" study. The Information Society 12(2), 189-198.

Lois Ann Scheidt sent a bibliography from a paper she had done, which
included the following in addition to those mentioned above:

Association for Computing Machinery. (1992, October 16). ACM Code of Ethics
and Professional Conduct.
Available at:
Frankel, Mark S. and Siang, Sanyin. (1999). Ethical and legal aspects of
human subjects research in cyberspace: Report of a Workshop. American
Association for the Advancement of Science.
Available at:
Saunders, Kurt M. (2000). Human subjects research in cyberspace. Computer
Freedom and Privacy 2000.
Available at:
Suler, John (2000). Ethics in Cyberspace Research. In Psychology of
Available at:

Amanda Lenhart sent the following, an interesting utilitarian-oriented
perspective for medical practitioners using social science methods:
Eysenback, G., & Till, J. E. (2001). Ethical issues in qualitative research
in internet communities. British Medical Journal(323), 1103-1105.

Lynne Schrum, "Ethical Research in the Information Age: Beginning the
Dialog," _Computers in Human Behavior_, Vol. 13 (2), pp. 117-125.
Charles Ess comments:
>really excellent for its discussion of the qualitative research tradition
>and its connecting extant guidelines with research on listservs.
>Schrum develops a list of ten guidelines that stress
>that the authors of listserv
>postings are the owners of that material; e-mail should be treated as
>private correspondence "that is not to be forwarded, shared, or used as
>research data unless express permission is given"; and she likewise
>the importance of informed consent and protecting the confidentiality of
>listserv members."

Sharf, B. F. (1999). Beyond netiquette: the ethics of doing naturalistic
discourse research on the internet. In S. Jones (Ed.), Doing internet
research (pp. 243-256). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. {This is the only cite I
had in my pocket 4 days ago!}

Once again, my thanks for all these valuable contributions.


[YW] Yvonne Waern <Yvowa at tema.liu.se>
[LS] Lois Ann Scheidt <lscheidt at indiana.edu>
[VD] Vincent Dwyer <vdwyer at arrakis.es>
[AL] Amanda Lenhart <alenhart at pewinternet.org>
[CE] Charles Ess <cmess at lib.drury.edu>

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