[Air-L] public/private [part 1 of 2]

Mia Consalvo consalvo at ohio.edu
Mon Aug 13 09:57:35 PDT 2007

Hi all,

Before jumping into this discussion, I'd also like to raise the flag of
internationalism (as I sit here in ohio) and remind folks that different
rules and procedures will apply for different regions/nations/etc, including
different assumptions about what constitutes harm, risk, etc.

That said, I got curious as to what my own IRB says about blog research,
since I've done newsgroup analysis in the past and didn't get approval for
it. Here's why:

The IRB guidelines are actually a re-direct to US (federal) guidelines for
IRBs and research. They say that

"...research activities in which the only involvement of human subjects will
be in one or more of the following categories are exempt from this policy:

"...Research involving the collection or study of existing data, documents,
records, pathological specimens, or diagnostic specimens, if these sources
are publicly available or if the information is recorded by the investigator
in such a manner that subjects cannot be identified, directly or through
identifiers linked to the subjects."

Source at:

So, publicly available blog sites, websites, newsgroups, etc, would appear
to be exempt from review (unless we want to argue over what "publicly
accessible" means).

And more interestingly, if you read this closely, it would seem that even if
it is NOT publicly available, but the researcher makes sure that "subjects
cannot be identified" that type of work is also exempt. I'm guessing that
might apply in situations such as Facebook, where to gain access to
someone's profile you need to be friends (thus making those profiles
semi-private). I'm not advocating such an approach, but it would seem to be
acceptable at least according to US IRB guidelines.

Finally, I think we need to keep in mind a bigger concern about places like
blogs and social network sites, which is that the companies which run them
have NO compunctions about monitoring your activity, taking ownership of
your content, tracking you, etc etc.

My two cents,

Mia Consalvo, Associate Professor
Director of Graduate Studies
213 RTV Building
School of Telecommunications
9 South College Street
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701


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