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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 Fifteen: Studying Closed Communities On-line: Digital Methods and Ethical Considerations beyond Informed Consent and Anonymity (Ylva Hård af Segerstad / Dick Kasperowski / Christopher Kullenberg / Christine Howes)


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Studying Closed Communities On-line

Digital Methods and Ethical Considerations beyond Informed Consent and Anonymity



In 2014 researchers from Facebook and academia conducted a massive-scale experiment on emotional contagion through social networks (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014). In the experiment the news feeds of nearly 700,000 Facebook users were manipulated to see whether positive or negative news affected their emotions. The study sparked an intense discussion of ethical guidelines and informed consent in the international research community. Many argued that it breached ethical guidelines by lacking informed consent (cf. Vitak, Shilton, & Ashktorab, 2016). However, another dimension of this episode concerns the limitations of what researchers are allowed to do as compared to other professionals. The core feature of the Facebook platform is to manipulate content using algorithms to optimize it for marketing purposes.1 Thus, Facebook is allowed to do for commercial purposes what researchers are not allowed to do for scientific purposes.

As social media is tremendously rich in data, we argue that the question of ethics must be posed in close proximity to the methods and techniques used. Since social media platforms are constructed with the aim of collecting as much user data as possible, we suggest that foreseeable ethical difficulties can be managed by reducing the amount of data collected. The perspective of this chapter...

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