[Air-l] Research question: interviewing online subjects?

Paul Teusner paul.teusner at rmit.edu.au
Thu May 17 19:00:26 PDT 2007

Hey Erika,

As someone who's also in the social work field, I believe it is important to
include this policy in your research program and make it clearly know to
your participants, in that it allows them NOT TO DISCLOSE information. A
policy like this I think is above all empowering - it facilitates trust
between researcher and researched because the participant knows exactly
where you stand. I wouldn't use the word immoral though, just illegal. We
all engage in immoral activity from time to time, based on someone's
definition of the word. (Would you report someone who was engaged in
extra-marital, consensual sex? Who would you report it to?)

With regard to "Who would you report it to?" - It can be a bit of a
non-question, in that the policy itself can prevent disclosure and therefore
the need to report. If I need to report something, I would report it to the
Australian Federal police (because my research is based in Australia, and
the AFP can act on reports involving people outside the jurisdiction of
other police organisations in this country).

The big issue would lie in research across borders - would you report
someone who's profiting from pirated music sales in Thailand or a country
where there are no copyright laws? Or would you report a twenty-one year old
for having sex with a seventeen year-old in Victoria, Australia (it's legal

paul teusner

-----Original Message-----
From: air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org
[mailto:air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org] On Behalf Of Erika Pearson
Sent: Friday, 18 May 2007 11:24
To: air-l at aoir.org
Subject: [Air-l] Research question: interviewing online subjects?

Hello all

I've been reading the general sociology literature on conducting  
interviews as part of a research project, and some of the literature  
I have come across makes a point of noting that interviewers should  
be warning interviewees that any illegal or immoral behaviours  
uncovered during the course of the research/interview may be reported  
(for example, Adler and Adler, 2003).

My questions in regards to this are:
1)  Are those who have or are conducting online interviews or even  
interviews about internet issues making a point of such cautions? ( I  
suspect the two approaches have two separate answers).  What are  
others' experiences of this as practice?

2)  If so, what is the benchmark for classifying acceptable and  
unacceptable behaviours? (i.e.: the laws and norms of the  
interviewers context?  Those of the physical jurisdiction of the  
interviewee, if known?  The norms of the virtual group, network, or  
community under study?)

I browsed through the AoIR Ethics Committee document on Internet  
research, and (as I read it) there seemed to be an implication that  
the physical jurisdiction of the research subject was the prime  
candidate for setting a legal or ethical standard more generally in  
regards to proper treatment of research subjects, but that was just  
my sense on a first reading.  I would be very interested to hear the  
thoughts and experiences of others on this matter.  I admit, as I was  
reading this, my first thought was 'who would I report it to anyway!'

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

with thanks

Erika Pearson
Dept. of Media, Film and Communication.
University of Otago
P.O. Box 56
Dunedin 9054
Aotearoa/New Zealand
Ph: (+0064 3) 479-8680
erika.pearson at otago.ac.nz

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