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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 Nineteen: How Does It Feel to Be Visualized?: Redistributing Ethics (David Moats / Jessamy Perriam)


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How Does It Feel TO Be Visualized?

Redistributing Ethics



What are the ethics of a network graph? Data visualizations like the above present problems for qualitative researchers because they involve data about more users than can feasibly give consent, and they also involve giving over more control in the research process to tools, APIs, and algorithms, while ethical frameworks often assume a heavily orchestrated research process, with the researcher at the helm.

This chapter addresses some of the ethical implications of visualizations utilizing data from social media platforms, drawing on material from two ongoing studies (one which follows nuclear controversies on e-mail lists and Facebook, and another about diet-related hashtags on Instagram). While we cannot hope to offer any programmatic or definitive statements on the matter, we will draw on some insights from Science and Technology Studies (STS) to highlight how ethical issues are distributed between different aspects of the research process and between different types of actors, including non-human algorithms and tools.

Data visualizations range from “… simple pie charts and line graphs to more complex, interactive and emotive illustrations” (Kennedy, Hill, Aiello, & Allen, 2016, p. 715). Of course, plenty has already been said about the ethics (or lack thereof) of infographics (Kennedy et al., 2016) and big data techniques in the private sector (boyd & Crawford, 2012; Savage & Burrows, 2007)...

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