Building ethics into the research design

Online research

Internet research, and other research using new technologies, is constantly developing, and can take place in a range of settings (for example, email, chatrooms, webpages, various forms of ‘instant messaging’ and so on) – these can pose new ethical dilemmas.  For example:

  • What constitutes ‘privacy’ in an online environment? 
  • How easy is it to get informed consent from the participants in the community being researched? What does informed consent entail in that context? 
  • How certain can the researcher be that they can establish the ‘real’ identity of the participants? 
  • When is deception or covert observation justifiable? 

Researchers, research participants, and reviewers of research ethics will often encounter new or unfamiliar ethical questions and dilemmas.  There is a growing literature on ethics in online research, including some examples in our list of further reading.  A good starting point is the Association of Internet Researchers 2002 Guidelines and the information about web research on the University of Lancaster Social Science Research Ethics website.