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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 Twenty-Two: The Ethics of Sensory Ethnography: Virtual Reality Fieldwork in Zones of Conflict (Jeff Shuter / Benjamin Burroughs)


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The Ethics OF Sensory Ethnography

Virtual Reality Fieldwork in Zones of Conflict


This chapter is a critical analysis of virtual reality (VR) technology in ethnographic fieldwork, specifically the use of VR recording and playback apparatuses such as prosumer multi-camera arrays and Oculus video headsets. Although VR is not a new medium, our purpose is to start a conversation about VR fieldwork and its potential to relay and replay ethnographic findings/recordings within a growing field of digital and sensory ethnography. We begin the process of unpacking what it means for ethnographers to engage with a field site through contemporary VR technology, and how VR transcription and representation of real-time events impact traditional ethnomethodology – in particular, we examine popular claims that VR operates as an empathy machine that shrinks proximity and distance between users and recorded fields of distant suffering.

In July of 2014, Facebook’s billion-dollar acquisition of VR firm, Oculus, launched the company into the forefront of revamping virtual reality as an emergent media technology. The Facebook-Oculus deal is just the beginning of a wave of renewed interest and investment in VR as global technology conglomerates ranging from Google to Microsoft invest in a cascade of virtual reality startups. Analysts project this will mature into an 80 billion dollar market by 2025 (Danova, 2015). Yet, VR has been around for nearly sixty years as early VR possibilities explored how...

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