The Internet has proven to be a valuable source of data for researchers from a wide range of disciplines. Such research takes a wide range of methodological approaches and is situated in a broad range of research traditions. The Internet's novelty as a research terrain, combined with the many forms it takes and ways in which it blurs the conventional boundaries of public/private and mass/interpersonal communication (among other blurred boundaries), have made the issue of ethics for Internet research particularly unclear. Indeed, there is not even agreement on the extent to which much of this work involves human subjects, as 'human subjects' is traditionally understood. At one extreme is the argument that all analysis of online interaction involves human subjects, and therefore Internet researchers should gain consent for all data gleaned online. At the other extreme is the argument that anything posted in a publicly accessible online space is essentially dissociated from the humans who wrote it, and can therefore be used as research data without informing the participants or seeking consent.
A set of rules, or even guidelines, formulated at this time would likely be applicable only to some of the research conducted. However, it is possible to formulate a set of values that all Internet researchers should uphold when research involves humans. Articulating these shared values, and elucidating the issues involved so that researchers can make informed and thoughtful choices, are the primary charges of this ethics working group. Such a statement of values should be applicable across the many disciplines, countries, forms of online media, and methods involved in Internet research. In articulating these values, the working group should examine recognized disciplinary conventions regarding the ethical treatment of human subjects, as well as national and institutional guidelines, recognizing the distinction between ethics and law. Though the group is charged with creating this end product, the work of clarifying the issues involved and educating ourselves, other scholars, and the committees charged with institutional oversight of human subjects research is continuous. Therefore, a secondary charge is to recommend how an ongoing ethics component can be implemented into AoIR.
Charles Ess (Chair)
Christine M. Hine
Jeremy Hunsinger -