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.