Monday, September 28, 2009

Reading :: The Ethics of Internet Research

The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process
By Heidi McKee and James Porter

Internet research - specifically, qualitative research conducted in Internet spaces, such as email, listservs, social networking sites, and virtual environments - has become increasingly important as we conduct more interactions via Internet media. Yet, as the authors point out, institutional review boards and other research ethics bodies have not kept up: in some cases they have tended to interpret Internet research as archival research, demanding relatively low hurdles for consent, while in other cases, they have demanded much higher hurdles. In this book, McKee and Porter examine the ethical and institutional issues that surround this sort of research. Through their interviews with several Internet researchers - including, I must add, my friend and fellow Iowa State alum Dave Clark - they look at a range of ethical actions that these researchers have taken that go beyond the demands of their IRBs. And they push toward an understanding of ethics that is more tuned to the specifics of Internet research.

So they do useful work here, and I'd recommend the book to scholars who are embarking on Internet-based studies. (I should mention that I haven't conducted such a study so far.) I am not entirely in step with some of their conclusions, such as their recommendation that "the genre of the social science report ... [be revised] to include a section on ethical issues" (p.156), a move that I worry will bog down the genre with pro forma pronouncements as ethical standards for Internet research become more settled. But as a temporary feature during the development of Internet research ethics, such a section makes sense.

If you're doing Internet research, I suggest giving this book a read.

No comments: