Abstract - The Information Society 12(2)

Researching Internet communities: Proposed ethical guidelines for the reporting of results

Storm A. King

Communication researchers and social scientists are quickly discovering the value of data that exists in the postings of members of Internet e-mail, Usenet, and real-time groups. The ability to communicate with one's peers, no matter how esoteric the interests, is causing an explosion in the number of new virtual communities. The interpersonal dynamics of these groups are increasingly coming under the scrutiny of academic research. The ability to do naturalistic observations of group dynamics, as they are exhibited in these exchanges of text, has captured the attention of many researchers. The institutional review boards of major universities are granting researchers exempt or expedited status for this work, due to the public nature of the notes being analyzed. These studies often involve the lack of informed consent. Guidelines based on the American Psychological Association ethical guidelines for use of human subjects in research are proposed.

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