The Internet and the Death of Ethics

We all have a personal love for the internet, but I never really considered the internet as an ethical issue until this year.

So is there a place for ethics on the internet? Well, yes, I think there is.


By posting online, it does not mean you give permission for your data to be used, but merely giving permission for the public to read it and see your opinion. Therefore, if researchers were to use this data, they are not truly gaining informed consent. You may argue, that by posting online they have given some sort of consent, but if they have not agreed to let their data be used, they have not consented to take part in the research and are not informed on what it is being used for. So surely a regulation should be put into place, where researchers must obtain informed consent before they take away any data.

Although data is anonymous, who can tell these people are who they say? Take for instance, children with Facebook may change their date of birth to allow them to use such a site. If this is the case, any data collected is false and they are actually using children in their research. This brings up major ethical issues and could have a damaging effect on their research.

Another issue, which I think highlights the need for ethics on the internet is the right to withdraw. Because the participants have not been informed of their part in the research, they have no idea their data is being used. Therefore, they have no right to withdraw.

And finally, without gaining informed consent, the researchers cannot debrief. Although this may not seem a problem if they do not know they’ve taken part, the anonymity of the internet makes this truly difficult.

Therefore, if rules were put in place to regulate the gain of informed consent, this would enable researchers to cover their backs (so to speak) and allow them to apply ethics to their research, in order for them to ensure reliability, validity and fair practice.


However, surely there are already ethics on the internet.

By writing on public domains, these people are knowingly consenting to anyone reading it – hence it being public! They’ve had to agree to the terms and conditions* when they initially sign up to any site, then surely the issue of informed consent has been met. (*even if “I have agreed” is the biggest lie ever ha!) And if people are that bothered about who can see their work and opinions, then its easy enough to change the privacy settings. And they can delete the contents or even deactivate the blog, if the public eye is such a problem. So in one way, everyone does have the right to withdraw.

The internet is a hugely anonymous place. So surely confidentiality and rights to privacy are still being kept. By being anonymous, the data is more likely to be real, and so the researchers will gain rich data and a much better insight into the specific population, and this increases the reliability and validity of the research.


To conclude, as a secondary source, the internet is very valuable. It is so widespread, that it means information is easy to get hold off, from large and diverse populations. It reduces costs and time wasting, and so overall, is beneficial. But, it is just worth being cautious when using it, and probably only using it as something as a ‘last resort’, because primary research is far more reliable. I believe there is a place for ethics on the internet. Although to some extent there are rules on the internet; think terms and conditions, there needs to be tighter rules and regulations. But who will put those in place and monitor them is another point, for another blog. 

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12 Responses to The Internet and the Death of Ethics

  1. raw2392 says:

    Interesting topic to write your blog on and I think you’ve made some really good points. I have to agree with the fact that agreeing to the terms and conditions can sometimes be the biggest lie ever, carrying on from this point I think that when a person clicks on agreeing the terms and conditions a person then technically has no standing against any rules that have been placed on the site, making the point that reading the terms and conditions can sometimes be a really important thing to do! Data used from the Internet can always cause controversy; people use the internet in sometimes twisted ways to gain access to things they usually wouldn’t be able too… for example using social networking sites to pose as someone else, which as you have pointed out is then using inaccurate data. However, I do not agree with the fact that posting in a public domain gives anyone the right to read what you have written, despite it being public and that social networking sites are now trying really hard to allow privacy settings to be activated so this can not happen. I myself, have my Facebook set to private, so stalking ex’s and what not can’t find out where I am or what I’m up to!
    As stated by Dennis O’Reilly (2010), the internet can bring out the worst in the best of us, with the lapsed use of ethics on the internet people can get hold of information easily and then manipulate it to make it what they wish it to be seen as.
    The last internet ethics was published in 1989 and with times changing constantly and younger, more vulnerable children gaining access to social networking sites, I really think that the ethics needs to be re-evaluated!

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  3. psuca7 says:

    A problem with the Internet is that you can never really withdraw anything posted; once you hit ‘submit’ or ‘reply’ it’s out there for everyone to see, and even if you delete it at a later date there’s no telling how many people have seen it and how many times it has been replicated. This leads on to the point that as a piece of information is transferred from site to site, it is often reworded to seem authentic, so there is no telling just how far from the truth you can get, just by the information changing hands and being passed on.

    For us to be able to see accurate research on the Internet, there should be a site that allows us to access information that hasn’t been tampered with or changed. Then it could be accessed by all without breaching any ethics (also, by having the studies on a site the owners of the research would be consenting to others reading and furthering their research).

  4. kpsychb says:

    Your blog was a really interesting read. The big debate on whether the internet can ever be used ethically is really complicated. As you mentioned in your blog by people posting on the internet are making it public, but are not necessarily giving consent for it to be used for research bases. I completely agree with you. Because I know when I post something on facebook I’m allowing people to view it but I wouldn’t want it to be taken and analyzed for research. I do think that informed consent should be attained, like you said in your blog people can change things bout themsleves like there date of birth which would make the research less accurate. Also like psuca7 states that people could take one piece of information on the internet and then change it which would then make the information not as accurate, such as Wikipedia can sometimes be inaccurate, because everybody can change it. Also I have to completely agree raw2392 that the internet ethics needs to be revised especially since in 1989 the internet was not as widely used as it is today!

  5. itsstats3453 says:

    Seeing as the internet has become so largely available to everyone it is a great source for gathering research about a number of different populations so we should utilise it as a source. But as you mentioned in your post how do we actually know people are who they say they are. Anyone could lie and withdraw information about themselves which would make using their information invalid and lead to false results and assumptions being made. Gaining information from the internet can never be fully ethically done but we can try our best to try and make it. Like trying to contact the person in question but this may be a difficult and it could cause stress to the person because of the subject of the info you are using. For example asking someone on a mental health forum whether you could use their info maybe more distressing for them to find out they are being treated as a test subject. So you could argue that trying to contact someone to ask for their fully informed consent would be more unethical then just keeping their data anonymous. When it comes to ethics and the internet as previous comments have said clearly needs to be revised it is such a grey area. Until it is, it would be down to the researcher to say whether they think what they are doing is actually ethical.

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  7. counseyyy says:

    I agree that there are already ethics on the internet, especially as people who write any information or data on there know that it is going to be available worldwide. However, even though this may count as consent, if the person who is posting information is under 16 or has difficulty reading or understanding, then it does not count as full consent. Although this is a problem it would be very difficult to stop children entering a false date of birth on facebook. However I do agree that there are a way around most internet issues with things such as privacy settings. A very interesting and well written blog.

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  9. prpklm says:

    You make a very good point when explaining the problems of internet anonymity, how can the research ensure that the person they are gathering data from are actually who they say they are? This can have great implications on the research that is being conducted, which is why I think that maybe internet research should not be relied on by itself but alongside other research.
    Some advantages are given by Smith & Leigh (1997), my favourite point is that the internet plays a huge part in a lot of people’s everyday life therefore gathering information from the internet can give researchers a great understanding of social behaviour. The researchers also go on to discuss the importance of ethics and how they have developed systems to gain informed consent from participants, plus how they can check that their participants are who they say they are.

    Smith, M. A., & Leigh, B. (1997). Virtual subjects: using the internet as an alternative source of subjects and research environment. Behaviour Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 29, 496-505.

  10. Leilla92 says:

    hey i think you have chosen a really interesting blog this week! I think that i would have to disagree with you, I believe if your willing to put something on the internet then you should be willing for people to use your data or what ever you have put on the internet. By posting on line your not giving permission for you data to be used but your also not not giving permission, you cant jump out of the computer screen if someone is using your data. However i do agree that if data is being used then there is no option for particiapnts to withdraw which is wrong and perhaps ethical issues should be raised on that front. If you are a good researcher then i think relying on the internet as a source without using other sources as back up is not a good idea. You never actual know if this is real data and you cudnt accept it as valid and reliable. The whole issue with ethics really stops good research from happening and i think that if ethical restrictions were put on the internet then it would be a step too far. At the end of the day you took part in a study the study was put online and people used it, if you didnt want this to happen then dont put it on the internet its your choice. I think you made a good argument for both sides and it was easy to read.
    check out this website it shows how ethics can affect even the silliest thing such as cartoons broadcast!

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