[Air-L] blogs and confidentiality

Porter, James E. Dr. porterje at muohio.edu
Mon Nov 28 06:12:29 PST 2011

Let's be careful about some facile assumptions that are flying around in
this conversation, for instance ...

1. That "IRB people" are not "Internet people." Some on this list are both.
In fact many on this list are long time AOIR'ers who also serve or have
served as IRB members -- like myself, at two different institutions (Purdue,
Michigan State). In general I would say that IRB members are usually very
"big on nuances," particularly as pertains to human subjects' rights and
researchers' responsibilities. Some of them know a fair amount about
Internet research. 

2. That the private-public distinction is a clearcut one, easily
determinable, and that, ergo, ethical decisions can be very clearly and
easily made by determining whether the collected date falls into the one
category or the other. No, not that clear or simple. Public/Private is not a
binary, it's more like a continuum, with many shades and variations of
public-ness and private-ness depending on the particular circumstances of
the locale (e.g., level of password protectedness), as Michael Zimmer and
others on this list have pointed out.

3. That "public" = "published," at least for purposes of research ethics. No
again, not that simple. "Published" means much more then simply "displayed
or occurring in public." Historically the word also implies (a) some degree
of authorial intention, and (b) some degree of editorial review and

4. That all Internet behaviors that occur on "public" sites should be
treated, for the purposes of research, as public and published documents.
No, not that simple ... see Items #2 and #3 above. (Are game actions the
same as "published documents"?)

Rather than entering the research enterprise with the above points as
assumptions, I would advise researchers to begin the process with these
points as questions: For example, Are there members of my institution's IRB
who actually have experience with Internet research and who could not only
understand my research but actually productively help advise its design? Did
the writers of this blog actually *intend* to publish this work for public
display and circulation? I would also advise researchers to answer the
questions in terms of particular locale, venue, people, texts, behaviors,
etc. -- i.e., the particular circumstances and conditions of what they are
studying -- rather than in terms of broad generic principles.

Jim Porter


James E. Porter, Professor
Department of English and
Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies
Director of Composition

Department of English
Bachelor Hall 356A
Miami University
Oxford, OH  45056
email: porterje at muohio.edu
twitter: http://twitter.com/reachjim
web: http://www.units.muohio.edu/english/People/Faculty/I_P/PorterJames.html

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