Abstract - The Information Society 12(2)

Informed consent in the study of on-line communities: A reflection on the effects of computer-mediated social research

Elizabeth Reid

In studying on-line communities, researchers must consider the unique environmental factors involved in order to minimize potential harm to human subjects. In particular, the often commented upon disinhibiting effect of computer-mediated communication can encourage people to agree to or even insist on a kind of public exposure by which they may eventually be harmed. On the Internet, where perceptions of interpersonal affect and effects may be obscured by the nature of the medium itself, care must be taken to guard against not only any increased tendency for researchers to objectify subjects, but also the tendency for subjects to underestimate the potential consequences of consent. The criteria for informed consent that may be sufficient in face-to-face research environments are not necessarily so in a medium in which subjective experience is easily objectified and information is easily devalued.

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