Is it ethically okay to use internet sources as data for qualitative studies?

Information and Internet technology has developed expeditiously in the recent years. This put forward the opportunities to enhance a research through the internet. Data collection has became a lot easier and the data collected would be more “generalisable” to the entire population because there is a really huge group of potential participants (that the age, job, location of the P are all varied). However here comes a problem : whether the data collection/sources would be ethical?

To protect participants’ privacy, it is necessary that letting the participants aware of the fact that they are going to take part in the research(informed consent) and if the data is collected through some websites(instead of online survey/questionnaire) that considered as private site(personal blog or personal website), the best way is to contact the owner of the site first to seek for permission to use the information. In addition researchers should not directly quote from the website that may be addressed by the searching engine, for example google.

Other than ethical problem, there are few more problems that researchers should be aware of, for example the researchers have to identify whether the information on the internet is real or not. Therefore we should be careful when selecting,filtering and/or collecting any information/data on the internet.

In my opinion, if the researchers can carry out the research step by step following the guidelines, there should not be any problem(minor problem may appears like normal research usually has). And carrying out research by using the internet would be far less time consuming and easier for both researchers and participants. And might as well become the trend of researching in the future.(But surely will be more developed, like the structure and rules/guidelines would be clearer)

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4 Responses to Is it ethically okay to use internet sources as data for qualitative studies?

  1. psuc97 says:

    Hey great blog you make some good points 🙂
    In addition to your point about how researchers have no way of knowing that the source they are using is genuine or fake, the lack of contact between the participants and researchers may lead to distress from the participant that is not detected. The BPS website ( explains how this is a big ethical concern for Internet mediated research.
    Another ethical issue brought up by the BPS and investigated by Car & Sheikh (2004) is the fact that if researchers do not use a secure email system when collecting the data/ participants, then private information could be disclosed to the rest of the internet, thus breaching the ethical guidelines of confidentiality.
    In addition, Flicker, Haans & Skinner (2004) explain how data should only be collected from places that the public would expect to be observed by strangers and/or professionals. Therefore researchers should opt to collect there data from known public resources if they are unable to get informed consent from the participants.

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  3. psuc15 says:

    Over the years ethics have been adapted to suit the current society in which we live and research is carried out. Different principles have been altered to accommodate the needs and protection of both the researcher and the participants involved. Baring this in mind with the advances made in technology becoming increasing dependant in everyday life it comes as no surprise that research has taken a technological approach to data collection.

    However some issues do arise when people accept terms and conditions without fully reading the document which can cause more issues within research. So whereas the researcher has informed the participant of the rigours they are not always confirmed, being unethical, to have been processed in comparison to formal investigations information such as this can be confirmed directly with confidence that the individual truly understands.

    You bring to the reader’s attention that although it would appear that research provided through the internet is an easier more ethical method there are several issues raised with this technique that need to be taken into consideration to provide ethically reliable data.

    I think you evaluated both sides of the argument thoroughly before coming to a conclusion in which I have to agree with. A method should not be criticised if it can be carried out correctly just because it’s a different style. If research can be carried out ethically using technology then there should be no reason not to use this as a possible method of investigation.

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