[Air-L] blogs and confidentiality
tsenft at gmail.com
Mon Nov 28 09:58:54 PST 2011
Thanks for the kind words!
I was addressing the specifics of this case, rather than trying to carve
out a generalized dictum, here. Luckily I have shot my ranting wad, so to
speak, or I would launch into my tirade against anti one-size-fits all
discussions of internet ethics.
To your points, regarding possible exceptions on the "ask the writer for
1. What if the writer is dead?
Yah know, I am not sure this precludes trying to secure permissions. I
will leave the question of ownership of internet identity beyond death to
the lovely and talented Tama Leaver, who I believe is writing on such
But I will raise some questions for you:
How come Beckett gets protection, even though he is dead? If I publish
print material, like Beckett did, my written work is protected to some
extent. But if I die, according to your logic, ever say anywhere in any
context is might be fair game because you can't find me to secure consent.
What about my estate?
These issues became very real for me after people made a Facebook memorial
page for my brother, a man who loathed Facebook. The page included images,
stories and bits of email correspondences, posted without consulting
family. The local newspaper likewise had a "electronic guest book" on his
obituary, never consenting the family on the matter, and providing no means
2. What if the writing is published in a clearly public publication forum,
like Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Aren't blogs likewise
Blogs aren't published papers, for the same reason your lecture notes
online aren't the same as the journal article you publish in JCMC.
Different forums, different reader expectations, different vetting
process. Not.The. Same.
Btw, it would be great if reporters could get that through their heads.
Just because I am an academic and I like to put my thoughts out for people
to dialog with, it does not follow that I have released formal findings.
danah boyd is probably the one who has to deal with this the most, but I've
had it happen to me as well, and it blows.
3. What if the researcher wishes to quote for purposes of critique or
analysis -- and the writer might not wish to provide consent. Don't we need
space to do this?
Back in the olden days of bulletin boards, we had an expression that went:
"Attack the post, not the poster." It's worth bringing back. It's not hard
for a researcher to allude to a trend in an online space in which people
argue such and such, and then to refute or critique that line of analysis.
Individual quotes are very rarely necessary to do this, provided you have
some actual writing skills. Which, by the way, is an other rant of mine.
Again, I speak from experience, here. I have an entire chapter in a book
dealing very critically with someone who attempted suicide while on webcam.
I showed my chapter to the individual in question, we worked together to
obscure details that would identify her, including a reference to her
specific psych medications. We went back and forth. I got upset. She got
upset. We worked something out. The piece ran.
To this day, when I speak in public about this woman--and I get asked a lot
by people who read the book-- I continue to refer by her pseudonym. This,
in spite of the fact that she just published a well-reviewed book about her
struggle with mental health issues. My feeling is that her identity is hers
to disclose, not mine. When she asks me to behave otherwise, I will.
Sorry to detail this at length, but I'm working on a piece that re-visits
this issue and this individual--she is now a mental health awareness
advocate--and this stuff is very much on my mind.
4. What if the researcher is doing aggregate analysis, not quoting
excerpts, not identifying people by name, not using any personally
identifiable or trackable information.
I leave answering this question to those more qualified in quantitative
analysis, since like Barbie, I find math hard.
Back to grading!
Dr. Theresa M. Senft
Global Liberal Studies Program
School of Arts & Sciences
New York University
726 Broadway NY NY 10003
home: *www.terrisenft.net <http://goog_689013053/>**
*(needs a serious updating)
On Mon, Nov 28, 2011 at 12:27 PM, Porter, James E. Dr.
<porterje at muohio.edu>wrote:
> > 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?
> I agree with the presumption of your rant, Terri. Actually I don't think
> it's rant, it's a perfectly sensible ethical presumption. However, as an
> operating principle "ask the writer" might not work or might not need to be
> applied in certain circumstances. I'm thinking, for instance ...
> 1. The writer is dead, or for whatever reason inaccessible, practically
> speaking. (This applies moreso to archival material, but increasingly, too,
> to older Internet material.)
> 2. The writing is published in a clearly public publication forum,
> like Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. You would agree, I assume,
> that for such venues, permission would not not required. The question on
> table -- a good one, I think -- is, Does that apply to blogs? Well, I think
> there is not a universal answer for all blogs ... the principle does apply
> to some blogs but not others. For personal, health-related blogs, I would
> say that the presumption of privacy should be stronger.
> 3. The researcher wishes to quote for purposes of critique or unflattering
> analysis -- and the writer might not wish to provide consent. We have to be
> careful not to set up research protocols that impede or prevent legitimate
> 4. The researcher is doing aggregate analysis, not quoting excerpts, not
> identifying people by name, not using any personally identifiable or
> trackable information.
> 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
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