Ethics of online research

First-year PhD students at The Open University are required to give a conference presentation. As we often aren’t fare enough on with our research to give a presentation to the outside world, the university runs a postgraduate conference, which provides an opportunity to share ideas and progress, and try out our skills.

At the time, I was on the Ethics Committee of the local hospital, and so I took the opportunity to look at the ethics of online research.

I was interested (and still am) in the issue of the different sets of ethics apply to Internet research. If the Internet is conceptualised as space, then social science research ethics apply. However, if it is conceptualised as text/art, then the ethics of the humanities are more relevant. This is an important distinction, in part because social science ethics lay stress on the anonymity of data, whereas humanities ethics lay stress on giving credit to producers and authors of data.

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