[Air-L] blogs and confidentiality

jeremy hunsinger jhuns at vt.edu
Mon Nov 28 06:36:40 PST 2011

> 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
> screening.  

actually no, the word does not imply a or b historically or otherwise.  Newsletters, pamphlets, etc. written by one person and distributed hand to hand are published.  as best as i could determine in the last round of discussions on this 'published' is merely that an object has been created and then distributed to some section of the public.  The care needs to be taken on determining whether like an operations manual for a large corporation the group of people is private.  This is usually indicated by the media itself with signs saying things like 'not for distribution, for eyes only'  or 'not for public dissemination'.  Otherwise, if it can be or has been distributed it can be considered published.  I do agree that sometimes published information might be private information and then there are other questions involved.  

> 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"?)
Documentary research usually requires that the objects already exist, like a newspaper, and aren't continually ergodicly produced.  Blog archives, such as one can retrieve from archive.org, fit that description, and so do most blogs these days.  However, I think that in most cases blogs are going to fall under documents more than not.  One can imagine some odd blogs that would not be documents or amenable to the document model, but those would be at one end of a spectrum and many people would not necessarily even think of them as blogs.   

> 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 don't think this is a valid test, you can't get to the information you want without intervening and thus breaking the model of research.  Intent in any case is mutable, they might intend it today and not intend it tomorrow.  However the key is that 'intent' certainly isn't a test for whether something is published, i don't think i ran into any definition of published that required 'intent'.  Traditionally millions of things have been published without the authors intent.  The question I'd ask here is less intent but 'where can i find the data?'  Is it in a search engine, is it in an archive, is it in the library of congress archive, etc. etc.  Has it been referenced or referred to by other people?  in other words is there clear evidence that the public is using this published document? 

jeremy hunsinger
Communication Studies
Wilfrid Laurier University
Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
Virginia Tech

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