[Air-L] blogs and confidentiality

Terri Senft tsenft at gmail.com
Mon Nov 28 08:45:27 PST 2011

Hi pals,

Can I pose an alternative way of looking at this, one based on principles
of regard rather than rule of law?  I'm going to write a little rant, and
then I promise to never say anything more on this, at least not on our list

The Rant:

Instead of trying to figure out on an academic listserve what is private
and what is public on a blog, what if we let the people who are writing
these words decide?

A radical proposal: treat everything on a health-related blog as private,
until you make a relationship with the author to do an interview, either
via email or in person. Then, as part of the interview process, explain TO
THE INTERVIEWEE what you felt was compelling about their writing --for
scholarship, for health advocacy, etc. After you've expressed your
thoughts, you ask them permission to quote from their work.

This would require two layers of consent. The first would be the interview
consent form; the second would be the permission to quote parts of the blog
form. I suggest you tell them precisely what it is you are thinking of
quoting, since health advocacy issues are tricky and what is sensitive
stuff for one person might be run of the mill for another.  The interviewee
could choose one, or both options for consent.

As a researcher, I've done this in the past with all sorts of success and
recommend it for two reasons. First, it's a way of acknowledging your
interviewee as a writer, which is different than acknowledging him/her a a
speaker, regardless of whether or not you are typing during the interview.
Second, and perhaps more important, this process has always gotten me
clearer  on my reasons for taking someone else's thoughts out of one
context, and putting them into another, and the political ramifications of
such a re-arrangement.

And one more thought:

If you are really interested in making connections to these communities of
bloggers, and I assume you are or why else study them, you might even show
them what you've written after you've done your analysis. I've done this in
my own research and it's provided me with amazing follow-up material. Plus,
it's a way of thanking people for their time and thoughts.

Sorry if this feels like I am advocating more work. It can see how it might
seem like that, but trust me when I say the work will be front-loaded. The
world doesn't need another conference paper, dissertation or book that
comes to the conclusion that impartial observation is a ridiculous
notion--especially when it comes to researching advocacy communities. We
freaking KNOW this already. What we need is research that engages with the
ethical and epistemological issues that arise from this knowing. One way to
get at those issues would be to actually communicate with the  individuals
writing the words we hope to take for our scholarship, aka our "subjects."
Think and write deeply on those interactions, and your work will be
published, I guarantee. Avoid these interactions because it will be easier
to push your project past committees, and your research will die a pretty
obscure death. I'm advocating paying now, so you don't pay later.

Friends, we know we aren't intrepid reporters, and internet research isn't
like cracking Watergate. It would be awesome if we stopped behaving like it
was. I cannot tell you how many colleagues don't want their classroom
lectures podcast because while they know they are in a public forum, they
feel resistant to having their thoughts broadcast in a super-public
environment. How is a 'public' conversation meant for a health forum that
is then transported to your book any different?

Honestly, would it kill us to talk to people outside the academy as equals,
with the same rights to ownership of their thoughts and expression as the
rest of us want? Of course it wouldn't. Let's start doing it.

End of rant, and love to all


On Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 10:03 AM, Burcu Bakioglu <bbakiogl at gmail.com> wrote:

> OK, my "not nuanced" comment was for the reference made earlier to password
> protected sites only. In other words, if a site is password protected, IRB
> is going to ask that you use your informed consent form even if the
> password protection is "weak" and it takes 10 seconds to sign up. In other
> words, they won't consider whether it is easy to sign up or hard to sign
> up. When confronted with the option, IRB chooses the more conservative
> ground and say "It is better to be safe than sorry" so distribute your
> consent forms even if you think that anyone can access it in 10 seconds. In
> that regard, they don't see the distinction. i am not saying this is good
> or bad, I am saying this is usually the case.
> However, I do agree that IRB is not a monolithic entity and each
> institution is different (a comment made earlier). And I do agree with what
> Jeremy said in his previous email.
> BsB
> On Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM, Porter, James E. Dr.
> <porterje at muohio.edu>wrote:
> >
> > >> 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.
> >
> > I agree, intent is tricky. But I was not proposing intent as a litmus
> test
> > or ethical prescription. I was proposing it as a question to be asked as
> > part of the process of research ethics. If the answer happens to be, "No,
> > as
> > far as I can tell from available information, the writer did not intend"
> > ...
> > well, that doesn't necessarily mean consent is required or the data
> cannot
> > be used. Not at all. There may be other compelling reasons in force, such
> > as
> > the ones you mention (e.g., document already exists in a publicly
> available
> > archive). Again, my point is not an ethical prescription, it's a point
> > about
> > research process: (1) ask the question, and (2) answer the question in
> > terms
> > of particular circumstances. Your follow-up questions are just the kind
> of
> > circumstantial questions I think researchers should be asking.
> >
> > > 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?
> >
> > Best,
> > 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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> >
> > Join the Association of Internet Researchers:
> > http://www.aoir.org/
> >
> --
> Thanks,
> Burcu S. Bakioglu, Ph.D.
> Postdoctoral Fellow in New Media
> Lawrence University
> http://www.palefirer.com
> http://palefirer.com/blog/
> --
> "Come to the dark side, we have cookies."
> ~Anonymous
> _______________________________________________
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Dr. Theresa M. Senft
Global Liberal Studies Program
School of Arts & Sciences
New York University
726 Broadway  NY NY 10003

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