[Air-l] vampirefreaks et al

Charles Ess cmess at drury.edu
Thu Sep 14 20:30:58 PDT 2006

> Sooooo, I'm turning the question around to you: at what point do people have
> a responsibility to "intervene" in something they see online and if that
> point comes, what form should their reaction take?

Nice question!  

This is a significant issue specifically in Internet Research Ethics,
especially for those researching adolescent / young adult websites.
Our very own Susannah Stern has written two insightful and helpful articles
on this, based in part on her own experience with encountering a mention of
suicidal thoughts on a young woman's website, and then discovering a few
months later that the young woman had in fact killed herself.

Stern, S. R. (2003). Encountering distressing information in online
research: a consideration of legal and ethical responsibilities. new media
and society, 5 (2), 249-266.
Stern, S. R. (2004).  Studying adolescents online: A consideration of
ethical issues.  In Elizabeth Buchanan (Ed.), Readings in virtual research
ethics: Issues and controversies.  Hershey, Pennsylvania: Information
Science. 274-287.

In the U.S., as I understand it, social workers and other professionals are
required by law to report such communications if they seem genuine.  Of
course, there are important caveats to be made about the differences between
online and offline - but are the differences (I'm asking: genuine question)
so great that the moral responsibilities are any less / different?

Offhand - if the threat seems more than play and show (goth culture and all
that), then what can it hurt to inquire with the author? (Yes, the
researcher risks exposing himself / herself and thereby corrupting / ruining
his/her research data: but if human lives are potentially at stake, which
trumps?  Human life, it would seem.)
Depending on the response - it _may_ be possible to contact local
authorities (psychological-social services, law enforcement ...)

Just "feeling with my feet" in the effort to start crossing this particular
ethical river (as a Japanese proverb would suggest) - a discussion-starter
intended to invite critical comments, further insights and suggestions for
more extensive and helpful guidelines.

thanks for asking, Jonathan!
- c.

Distinguished Research Professor
Interdisciplinary Studies <http://www.drury.edu/gp21>
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.              Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA       FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html

Information Ethics Fellow, 2006-07, Center for Information Policy Research,
School of Information Studies, UW-Milwaukee
Co-chair, CATaC conferences <www.catacconference.org>
Vice-President, Association of Internet Researchers <www.aoir.org>
Professor II, Globalization and Applied Ethics Programmes

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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