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Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age

New Challenges, Cases, and Contexts


Edited By Michael Zimmer and Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda

The continuous evolution of internet and related social media technologies and platforms have opened up vast new means for communication, socialization, expression, and collaboration. They also have provided new resources for researchers seeking to explore, observe, and measure human opinions, activities, and interactions. However, those using the internet and social media for research – and those tasked with facilitating and monitoring ethical research such as ethical review boards – are confronted with a continuously expanding set of ethical dilemmas. Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Challenges, Cases, and Contexts directly engages with these discussions and debates, and stimulates new ways to think about – and work towards resolving – the novel ethical dilemmas we face as internet and social media-based research continues to evolve. The chapters in this book – from an esteemed collection of global scholars and researchers – offer extensive reflection about current internet research ethics and suggest some important reframings of well-known concepts such as justice, privacy, consent, and research validity, as well as providing concrete case studies and emerging research contexts to learn from.

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Chapter Three: Sorting Things Out Ethically: Privacy as a Research Issue beyond the Individual (Tobias Matzner / Carsten Ochs)


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Sorting Things Out Ethically

Privacy as a Research Issue beyond the Individual



Manifold approaches within the academic social sciences aim at raising the treasure of “social data” generated on the internet for the purpose of enhancing social knowledge. E.g. Bruno Latour (2007) notes that thanks to the internet:

[t]he precise forces that mould our subjectivities and the precise characters that furnish our imaginations are all open to inquiries by the social sciences. It is as if the inner workings of private worlds have been pried open because their inputs and outputs have become thoroughly traceable. (p. 2)

However, while some researchers have dealt with the problematics that come with this new potential to force open the “inner workings of private worlds” (boyd, 2010; boyd & Crawford, 2011; Heesen & Matzner, 2015; Ochs, 2015a) most undertakings are rather focused on analyzing and tapping the potential that is created by digitally networked interactions, and the traces they leave (Manovich, 2012; Rogers, 2014; Venturini, 2012; Venturini & Latour, 2009). This article aims to contribute to theoretically characterize the comparatively novel sociotechnical situation by asking for ethical problematics that threaten to arise from a non-reflexive application of the methods in question. More precisely, we will analyze the ethical challenges that these developments bring about for the modern social ordering mechanism called privacy. How to relate to...

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