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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 Eleven: Ethics of Using Online Commercial Crowdsourcing Sites for Academic Research: The Case of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Matthew Pittman / Kim Sheehan)


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Ethics OF Using Online Commercial Crowdsourcing Sites FOR Academic Research

The Case of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk


Crowdsourcing is the process of collecting needed services (such as information) from a large group of people, generally using digital platforms. Many researchers today collect experimental and survey data from a number of different of online crowdsourcing applications, including Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Prolific Academic, ClickWorker, and CrowdFlower. These online crowdsourcing applications differ in several ways from other online respondent pools. Crowdsourcing applications allow researchers to contract individually with respondents, who are then paid directly for completing surveys or other academic tasks. This is different from panel companies that compensate respondents with points redeemable toward gift cards or entries into lotteries, which do a good job of controlling for important demographic characteristics. Crowdsourcing applications can provide large amounts of data at costs significantly lower than those of panel companies. Academic researchers must weigh several factors, such as budget, desired demographics, nature of task, and anticipated dropout rate, when deciding whether crowdsourcing is an appropriate method for them.

The ethics of crowdsourcing – and online academic crowdsourcing in particular – is a novel and understudied phenomenon. However, it is an area that deserves close attention, as most business analysts believe the micro tasking industry will only increase in scope and size (Olenski, 2015). Levine (1988) wrote that academic research must take the welfare of research participants...

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