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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 Four: Chasing ISIS: Network Power, Distributed Ethics and Responsible Social Media Research (Jonathon Hutchinson / Fiona Martin / Aim Sinpeng)


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Chasing ISIS

Network Power, Distributed Ethics and Responsible Social Media Research



Of all the ethical dilemmas facing internet researchers in the so-called “social age” (Azua, 2009) the most difficult is negotiating the expansion of actors and risks in distributed communicative environments, particularly where actors have unequal power over the terms and conduct of research. As digital media ethicist Charles Ess (2013) notes academic research ethics have historically focused on the duties of individual, institutional researchers to protect vulnerable human subjects from harm – a focus that is destabilized in studies of social media environments. Social media users, bots, communities, platform providers, and governments all possess degrees of creative and legal autonomy that pose problems for ensuring traditional procedural research controls such as consent or confidentiality. Some users may deliberately mask their identities and troll their observers. Terms of service and privacy controls may change mid-study. States may surveil and control certain data transactions. The proliferation of non-human actors alone challenges scholars to reimagine the concepts of subject, sociality, and social responsibility. Intellectual property and data protection laws are evolving too, provoking difficult questions about the terms of research access to platforms and their responsibilities to the creators of that information. Thus the contingent nature of internetworked power relations complicates the identification of risks, evaluation of benefits, and assessment of social implications for those involved in any...

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