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Web Survey Bibliography

Title Beyond methodology - some ethical implications of "doing research online"
Author Heise, N.
Year 2013
Access date 26.03.2013

In the last 20 years, online methodology witnessed a growing proliferation in market research as well as in the academic field. In the course of this institutionalization, new forms and spaces of communication were studied on the net – partly by transferring “old” methods onto new fields, and partly by using new methodological tools.
While the net at first glance appears as a huge, easily accessible archive of communication and interaction, the ethical implications of online-based research are also becoming gradually apparent. Despite their relevance for the professionalization of online research, these questions have not yet been tackled empirically.
Against this background, the presented study seeks to identify potential ethical conflicts of online research. Hence, the author conducted an explorative interview study with 17 German academic online researchers with different professional backgrounds (such as methodology, thematic focus of their research or stage of their academic career). Together with additional texts from a virtual working group (, their statements were qualitatively analyzed to identify relevant arguments and overarching issues regarding online research ethics.
The analysis shows that the application of ethical standards (e.g. obtaining "informed consent") is not problematic with conventional methods, because here researchers can rely on prior experience and a methodological common sense. Instead, ethical conflicts and insecurities occur when researchers cannot (yet) refer to fixed best practices, this accounts for genuine online methods (e.g. avatar-based research), new research objects (e.g. social networks) and/or due to new user practices (e.g. social web use as publication vs. conversation). In particular, conflicts arise due to the blurring boundaries of publicity and privacy, the de-contextualization of research, as well as the persistence of data and new possibilities for (re-)combination of data.
This led to the general assumption that ethical conflicts in online research mainly arise because of breaches with norms of online communication. Hence, an understanding of online based research as a specific form of computer-mediated communication might help us to better comprehend the occurrence of ethical conflicts while “doing online research”.
Accordingly, the “hybrid” roles of online researchers as professionals, users and private persons, as well as the manifold contexts of online research (e.g. expectations with regard to specific online spaces or their technical and legal frameworks) must be discussed. Moreover, the presentation will introduce principles of online communication, which might provide ethical guidance (e.g. authenticity, reciprocity) with regard to different phases of the research process.

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Year of publication2013
Bibliographic typeConferences, workshops, tutorials, presentations
Full text availabilityAvailable on request

Web survey bibliography - General Online Research Conference (GOR) 2013 (34)