Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model

E. H. Bassett
School of Information Management
Watts Building
University of Brighton
Lewes Road
Moulsecoomb
Brighton
BN2 4GJ UK

Kathleen O'Riordan
Lecturer in Continuing Education (Media Studies)
Arts C304
CCE
University of Sussex
Falmer
Brighton
BN1 9RG UK

Abstract: The human subjects research model is increasingly invoked in discussions of ethics for Internet research. Here we seek to question the widespread application of this model, critiquing it through the two themes of space and textual form. Drawing on our experience of a previous piece of research, we highlight the implications of re-considering the textuality of the Internet in addition to the spatial metaphors that are more commonly deployed to describe Internet activity. We argue that the use of spatial metaphors in descriptions of the Internet has shaped the adoption of the human subjects research model. Whilst this model is appropriate in some areas of Internet research such as email communication, we feel that researchers, when navigating the complex terrain of Internet research ethics, need also to consider the Internet as cultural production of texts.

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