Representations or People?

Michele White
Wellesley College
Art Department
Jewett Art Center
Wellesley, MA 02481, USA
mwhite@wllesley.edu

Introduction*

n this article, I engage with contemporary debates about Internet research ethics and the idea, which is expressed in a great deal of this material, that Internet research is a form of human subjects research. Many of the ethical guidelines that I discuss do not distinguish between Internet research, which can be defined as studies of pre-existing Internet settings and materials, and research that uses the Internet as an "interview" strategy and may engage with individuals in physical settings. However, my main focus in this article is the ways that human subjects guidelines are being applied to Internet research. Some of my comments apply specifically to Internet researchers and human subjects guidelines in the United States.

Academics from varied institutions and countries are engaged in the important task of articulating ethical guidelines for those who research the Internet. However, they have failed to provide users and researchers with important information because they do not address the ways that Internet material is mediated and constructed. The ethical issues and dilemmas involved in Internet research include researchers who ignore the screen, varied icons, repetitive motifs, and produced content. Addressing constructed material is important because Internet settings abound with ageist, classist, homophobic, racist, and sexist imagery and ideas. The current writing about ethical Internet research behaviors can enable such intolerant conceptions by encouraging academics and other users to presume that Internet settings provide access to the truth about individuals or are a direct conduit to people. In other words, conceiving of Internet material as people and human subjects without foregrounding the constructed aspects of users’ proclaimed "self-representations" makes it seems like Internet material is exacting and natural.

Many Internet users shift between describing Internet settings as a conduit to the self and as artistic or cultural production. Acknowledging the highly mediated and representational aspects of this material and considering the ethical codes of research disciplines that engage with culturally produced material suggest a very different set of research strategies. When Internet material is viewed as cultural production then the models for Internet research might be Art History and Visual Culture, English and Literary Studies, Film and Media Studies, Music and Sound Studies, and Theatre and Performance Studies. A more complete integration of these approaches into Internet Studies–either as a sole investigatory strategy or in tandem with other forms of inquiry–would change researchers’ ethical questions. It would also change the ways that the material is seen and addressed because different academics and users understand Internet material through distinct lenses.

Considerations of Internet research ethics address the ways that individuals and societies understand the Internet and expect their materials and identities to be treated. At the same time, these ethical models change the ways that the Internet is perceived. As "we write, we are shaping the future of the Internet, shaping our ideas about it, and forming popular opinion […] This is a history we are actively writing" (Costigan, 1999, p. xx ). As writers and readers of such histories, it is important to attend to the kinds of histories we encourage and those that we may prevent. Feminism and a variety of other critical approaches have questioned the means by which individuals and institutions become part of a historical narrative. These political projects might make us wonder about an ethics of Internet "writing" and meaning production that has in some instances attempted to legislate the disciplines that have the "appropriate" skills to do Internet research.1 To some extent, calling Internet research "human subjects research" designates the disciplines that can work in this area, the appropriate discourses that can be employed, and prevents Humanities scholars from participating.

Internet research ethics is going to have an affect on the forms of research that are sanctioned or even permissible, the ways that we understand Internet culture, and our larger understandings of individuals and society. This suggests that there are significant consequences to hindering the participation of certain disciplines and preventing some kinds of histories from being produced. A truly ethical model of Internet research ethics would acknowledge such outcomes and encourage a variety of histories and disciplines. It would develop guidelines and rules that consider these problems at the same time as it foregrounds their possible effects.

In this article, I employ the Humanities method of close textual analysis in order to interrogate the ways that Internet material becomes people and is linked to guidelines for human subjects. I begin with a synopsis of the ethical debates about Internet research. The problems with these overarching guidelines and conflicts between the ethics of different areas of study are considered. A brief study of how graphical avatars function as art objects demonstrates the limits of discussing Internet material only as human subjects. I explore the different research strategies that can be employed when material is coded as both personas and cultural production. Understanding how conceptions of human subjects are related to writing about an animate and spatial Internet is an important part of this project. Photography provides a model for understanding how these representations get conflated with physical realities and people. The critical literature on photography also suggests how this can be resisted. Considering researchers’ and users’ reactions to Internet masquerades also indicates some conflicts in the ways we interact with Internet materials. In the conclusion, I consider some of the potential effects of guidelines for Internet research ethics and argue that guidelines should highlight such possible outcomes.

Ethical Debates about Internet Research

Scholarly debates and proposals about Internet research ethics continue to be produced and refined. Concerned academics, institutional review boards (IRBs), academic organizations, and governmental funding agencies have addressed Internet research ethics and generated a variety of comments, articles, and reports. These discussions have appeared in anthologies; an online symposium sponsored by MediaMOO; a special volume of The Information Society; the "Human Subjects Research in Cyberspace" panel at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference; the "Ethical Challenges to Doing Research on the Internet" panel at Internet Research 2.0, and "Internet Research Ethics" at the Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiries Conference.2 Guidelines for ethical Internet research have included proposals by the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) report authored by Mark S. Frankel and Sanyin Siang (1999). Academics like Amy Bruckman, Susan Herring, and Storm A. King have written their own proposals (Bruckman, 2002; Herring, 2001; King, 1996).

Some of these ethical guidelines have created uncertainty and concern about undue restrictions on research. AOIR’s preliminary report has noted that the "1999 AAAS report on ‘Ethical and Legal Aspects of Research on the Internet,’ while a significant first step, left many questions unasked" (AoIR, 2001). There has also been more general concern about IRBs and research guidelines. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) concludes in their "Protecting Human Beings: Institutional Review Boards and Social Science Research," report that "IRBs, in carrying out their responsibilities, too often mistakenly apply standards of clinical and biomedical research to social science research, to the detriment of the latter" (AAUP , 2001). The report’s "central recommendation is that IRBs can and should do more to take into account the pluralistic nature of academic research that is subject to their review."

Academics have different positions about the kinds of ethical behaviors that researchers should employ. According to Barbara Sharf, the primary ethical concerns are "issues of privacy, confidentiality, informed consent, and appropriation of others’ stories" (Sharf, 1999). The AAAS report identifies such ethical concerns as "the ability of a researcher to anonymously or pseudonymously record interactions on a site without the knowledge of the participants, the complexities of obtaining informed consent, the over-rated expectation, if not the illusion of privacy in cyberspace, and the blurred distinction between public and private domains" (AAAS, 2002). However, most of the ethical guidelines and concerns start with the presumption that Internet research involves human subjects and needs to follow current governmental guidelines. For instance, Robert Alun Jones argues that when "conducting research in cyberspace […] social scientists frequently observe the behavior of, and interact with, individuals" (Jones, 1994, pp. 30-35). He believes that the research involves human subjects because the researcher obtains "data ‘through intervention or interaction’ with the individual" (Jones, 1994). This borrows from the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s guidelines for human subjects (Code of Federal Regulations. 2001, Title 45, Part 46). However, Jones does not explain how Internet researchers access individuals.

AoIR formed a working group to "formulate a set of values that all Internet researchers should uphold when research involves human subjects." Their preliminary report did not articulate the instances in which research involved people but their most recent draft has addressed the issue of subjects (AoIR, 2001). "Are participants in this environment best understood as ‘subjects’ (in the senses common in human subjects research in medicine and the social sciences)–or as authors whose texts/artifacts are intended as public?" (Association of Internet Researchers Working Group, 2002) Other researchers have been more insistent in stating that Internet research involves human subjects.

When Amy Bruckman "assumes that you are already familiar with the basic requirements of human subjects research" in her "Ethical Guidelines for Research Online" she seems to conclude that only Medical, Science, and Social Scientist academics–those who are familiar with these guidelines–are doing Internet research (Bruckman, 2002). She also presumes that Internet research is always human subjects research and that "before the start of a study, the researchers and IRB must decide whether a subjects’ identities will be disguised" (Bruckman, 2002). Bruckman does list the instances where you may "freely quote and analyze online information without consent." However, the document is focused on the kinds of consent that are acceptable and the ways that character names and other Internet information should be handled–from "no disguise" to "complete disguise" (Bruckman, 2002).3

Academics have been simultaneously concerned and excited about how accessible material is on the Internet. Gunther Eysenbach and James E. Till refer to the Internet as a "rich source for researchers" (Eysenbach & Till, 2001, pp. 1103-1105). Brian A. Nosek, Mahzarin R. Banaji, and Anthony G. Greenwald argue that special interest lists offer psychologists "unique opportunities to access survey data from specific subject populations" (Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2002, pp. 161-176). Sharf argues that the Internet provides an "excellent source of data" and "convenience to researchers" (Sharf, 1999, p. 244). However, these researchers also offer ethical suggestions and believe that Internet research is human subjects research. Their concern is based on the large amount of readily available data and the ability to cut and paste or download material. Sharon Boehlefeld argues that this can encourage researchers to forget that "there are people on the ‘other side’ of their data" (Boehlefeld, 1996).

Nosek, Banaji, and Greenwald present a common belief when they state that the Internet "presents a unique opportunity to study individuals and groups within a naturalistic setting without the presence of an intrusive researcher" (Nosek, Banaji, and Greenwald, 2002, p. 174). It remains unclear what kind of participants they observe because there are no physical bodies or actions visible on the Internet. If participant observation is a "research method in which researchers observe behavior in real-life settings in which they are participants" then describing Internet research in this way and not acknowledging mediation, the constructed aspects of these representations, and the screen produces a materiality that does not exist through the Internet (Jeff Iverson Software. Dictionary of Terms & Terminology of Sociology). The researcher is looking at coded and culturally produced material. Nosek, Banaji, and Greenwald acknowledge that the researcher must keep "in mind that obtaining information about someone’s off-line life through on-line means of communication […] is always a hazardous, uncertain procedure, not simply because of the risk of being deliberately deceived but also because in such cases the medium itself increases the lack of ethnographic context" (Paccagnella, 1997). Considerations of the Internet as a social network might also address the ways that socialization and bodies are produced through specific Internet settings and disciplinary discourses.

Ethics and Academic Disciplines

Academics in different disciplines draw on different research conventions and ethical concerns in considering Internet material. Bruckman and a variety of other researchers advocate disguising or changing sources–in most cases. However, researchers in such disciplines as Art History and English identify the producer of a text, artist, or author by name. These methodological differences produce a significant problem in constructing overarching guidelines for Internet research ethics. With post-structuralism and postmodernism, Humanities research is often believed to represent larger cultural tendencies rather than any specific individual’s thoughts or exacting motivations. These disciplines address forms of cultural production and have not historically required human subjects research review boards. It seems inappropriate to believe that Internet research requires the conventions of these disciplines to change, that other academics can force or legislate them to change–particularly without taking some significant time to understand the codes and criteria of these disciplines–or that these research conventions should be deemed unacceptable. A system in which research about the same cultural producer could be performed from print but not Internet or computer sources, which is exactly what many Internet research guidelines are constructing, is also untenable.

The U.S. government makes distinctions about disciplinary and material differences in their enforcement of the Common Rule, which is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ "set of revised regulations for protecting the rights and welfare of human-research subjects" (American Association of University Professors, 2001). It is important to note that among "the federal agencies that do not subscribe to the Common Rule is the National Endowment for the Humanities" (American Association of University Professors, 2001). Ethical guidelines for academics in Art History and English are very different than those for academics in Medicine, Science, and most of the Social Sciences. For instance, "A Code of Ethics for Art Historians and Guidelines for the Professional Practice of Art History" suggests that one "of the most explosive issues confronting art historians as well as museum directors and Boards of Trustees and traders in cultural property is that of the illegal and illicit international traffic in works of art" (College Art Association, 1995). A related document–the "Guidelines for the Professional Practice of Art History"– insists that it "is a maxim of scholarship that authors should be scrupulous in crediting sources, not only for ideas and textual material but also photographs and suggestions as to the location of documentation" (College Art Association, 1995).

These guidelines make it clear that Art Historians are committed to crediting sources and providing reliable pointers back to materials rather than disguising individuals. Depending on the research, this can bring these practices into significant conflict with standard Social Science procedures. The Guidelines for the Professional Practice of Art History go as far as to suggest that poor behavior by archivists and other trustees of documents should be reported in academic writing because too "many irresponsible guardians of research materials have received critical immunity as a result of the timidity of aggrieved art historians." This commitment to citing sources is also suggested by the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) instructions for doing Internet research:

To cite a synchronous communication posted in a forum such as a MUD (multi-user domain) or MOO (multi-user domain, object oriented), give the name of the speaker (if you are citing just one), a description of the event, the date of the event, the forum for the communication (e. g. LinguaMOO), the date of access, and the network address. (Gibaldi, 1999, p. 201.)

Criticizing unacceptable archive practices and more importantly the qualities of cultural works are key elements of Humanities research. MLA’s mission "is freedom of inquiry, which we ask of the society we serve." (Modern Language Association, 1992, pp. 75-78)

Medical, Science, and Social Science academics may find detailed evaluation of aesthetics and ideas, political resistance to mores and representations, and other forms of critique unacceptable because they threaten to produce instances of harm. King argues against political and critical strategies when he states that if research results are "published in such a way that the members of a virtual community can identify their community as the one evaluated without their knowledge, psychological harm to individual members of that group can be expected" (King, 1996). However, the AAUP report argues that while "the subjects of social science research may experience unease, discomfort, or embarrassment, these are risks, in the words of the Common Rule, that are ‘ordinarily encountered in daily life’" (AAUP, 2001). Susan Herring has tried to "respect the privacy of individual participants, while preserving the academic freedom to criticize" (Herring, 1996). She was concerned in 1996 that varied guidelines– including King’s–did not consider "the possibility of CMC research that is linguistic in focus or critical in nature" (Herring, 1996). As the material in my article suggests, this situation has not changed very much. The ability to critique has continued to be called into question by some Internet research guidelines and other literature in this area. For instance, Norway’s National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (NESH) seems to include the Humanities in their guidelines but they resist critical strategies that question the work of individuals. They advise that having "one’s motives and acts assessed and described by outsiders can be offensive in itself. It is the researcher’s responsibility to prevent participants from being exposed to serious strain." (The National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, 2001)

Bruckman also resists political critique and advocates a neutral and "rational voice." She advises that you "can respond to hate speech or other undesirable behavior online as a netizen or as a journalist, and there are few restrictions on your ethical conduct […] but as soon as you put on your researcher hat, you owe them the same treatment you do to any other subject" (Bruckman, 2002). While all individuals deserve ethical treatment, there are some aspects of Internet material that might be addressed before stating that academics cannot critique what they deem to be unacceptable Internet material. Critical race studies, gay and lesbian studies, feminism, and a variety of other political projects should and do resist the argument that there is neutral and apolitical research. They address objectionable material and work for societal parity.

Bruckman does briefly discuss the ways that the Internet might be "a playground for amateur artists" who "deserve credit for their creative work." However, she assumes that the intent of a Humanities-oriented study would be to get at the truth of the real artist’s identity and to determine the appropriate "attribution" rather than to consider larger issues of cultural production. She argues that ethically the "real author" of the work needs to be verified. "Some work may be copied or highly derivative, meaning credit belongs to the original author" (Bruckman, 2002). However, with such contemporary works as Sherrie Levine’s appropriation of Edward Weston, Richard Prince’s borrowings from motorcycle magazines, and hip-hop scratching there is recognition that unique and individual authorship may no longer be possible or politically desirable. Terms like "original" have been called into question by a variety of net artists. Some of them have even argued that it is not possible to talk about objects or aura with the Internet (White, forthcoming).

The AAAS report also confuses physical individuals with constructed materials and human subjects with composite cultural works. It suggests that "people invest in their pseudonyms the way they invest in their real identities within a physical community" (Frankel and Siang, 1999). It is certainly the case that some Internet users take their characters and other materials quite seriously. "Pseudonyms" and the accompanying material are produced through a variety of programming codes, packaged software, and cultural references–including literary and popular quotations, musical samples, and appropriated images. All of this suggests that considerations of software, literature, and art would be useful models for discussing such Internet works.

These considerations would provide a different way to talk about the investment in pseudonyms. For instance, individuals in the gallery, the classroom, the office, and other venues are often presented with critical and sometimes very negative readings of their work. Academics in the Humanities have participated in such critical discussions through informal and published means. These are well-established practices that are–I believe–a necessary part of aesthetic, political, and intellectual engagement. Such discussions and conflicts can facilitate cultural innovation and improvement through group dialog.

Disciplinary conflicts indicate that guidelines for Internet research need to more fully acknowledge the diversity of scholars working with Internet material and the conventions of different disciplines. Guidelines could also be directed towards a particular discipline or a specific kind of Internet setting. It seems unlikely that any single guideline for Internet research ethics can resolve conflicts between the disciplines. For instance, the "Protection of Human Subjects" document requires that "risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits, if any, to subjects, and the importance of the knowledge that may reasonably be expected to result" and MLA mandates that "whether a line of inquiry is ultimately useful to society, colleagues, or students should not be used to limit the freedom of the scholar pursuing it" (Code of Federal Regulations. 2001, Title 45, Part 46). Obviously, a more careful articulation of both "subject" and "representation" would aid in these considerations. At the moment, guidelines for Internet research have not addressed such disciplinary conflicts and have instead almost completely ignored the conventions in a number of Humanities disciplines.

Graphical Avatars as Art Objects

The need for dialogue and different approaches to guidelines for Internet research ethics is indicated by the ways that avatars are viewed as both personas and art works in the Virtual Places graphical chat setting. The users of Virtual Places (VP), which was supported by Excite and Webcrawler, are told that avatars are "Sort of a persona of how you are or how you would like to be"(fsnet.net — Vphelp Avatars for Virtual Places Chat). Excite suggests that "Each picture is a graphical representation (known as an Avatar) of the users in that chat room" (Excite Chat — Excite Help). We can label the avatars on VP as "human subjects" or presume that they are directly linked to real individuals but this doesn’t explain the kinds of images that are used or the ways that they also function as art works.

Avatars are appropriated from the photographic material in beauty, movie, music, and porn magazines. The indexicality of these avatars, or the ways that they refer to material objects and real people, are extremely complex. Avatars are believed to represent the user but they also clearly point in many cases to recognizable media figures. It is sometimes the case that the source of the material is obvious. Despite these references, avatars are discussed as art object in various forums:

One of the most popular types of avatars, are the painted ones. Good av painters really have a good sense of art, and great perceptional vision. Av painting takes patience and talent, but if you have the time and quality of work to take up av painting, it’s rewarding, almost everyone likes a well-painted avatar. (Man. "Does An Avatar Define Someone?" VP on the Wire. 9 November 2000)

Some users describe themselves as "artists" and "painters" and re-manipulate previously produced material. The Image Reflections paint shop–and this is a common term to describe sites that make avatars for other users–claims that "most visitors come here for the astounding talent of our artists. They are without a doubt some of the most creative and gifted artists in Virtual Places" (Image Reflections — Mega Avatars & Painting by Image Reflections). The Versatile Creations site explains that the site "was created to display each painter’s vast talents & portrays each as a symbol of their dedication & willingness to broaden their ideas" (Versatile Creations). The value of avatar production is underscored by the employment of aggrandizing terms like "mastery" and descriptions of grids of avatar images as "galleries." The institutionalization of paint shops as an essential element of VP produces a vision of the system in which all users "wear"–and this is another common VP term–and perhaps even become a form of art.

The visual and aesthetic aspects of avatars make it difficult to write about them solely as human subjects. Ideally, the whole economy of paint shops should be considered. However, researchers in distinct disciplines would probably choose different tactics to address how this material functions as a form of artistry and a stand-in for the user. Current guidelines for Internet research ethics make this dual meaning structure difficult to discuss. Different researchers might feel comfortable writing about everything, about the images but not the engagement between images, addressing the web sites but not through the chat-oriented Virtual Places software, or they might decide to cancel the whole project because of the risk of harm to physical individuals that might follow from revealing specific knowledge about avatars. This information could include locating avatars in gay chat settings, linking avatars to hacking, and associating avatars with warez or illegally traded software.

For me, the shifting understanding of avatars produces some difficult ethical questions about balancing my sensitivity to the desires of specific populations and my political stake as a queer and feminist researcher. In particular, I am concerned about the overt homophobia that is expressed in VP when "threatening" sexualities become visible. Avatars that depict partly clothed or eroticized men are bounced from the system, labeled as "fags," and even threatened with physical violence if the image overlaps or "touches" another male avatar. The hate speech in VP is representative of similar statements expressed on Yahoo! Chat, MUDs, and MOOs. Describing these events in a detailed and ethical way is challenging if we follow the human subjects models and assume that producers and authors of avatars require such protections as anonymity, confidentiality, and informed consent. But even more fundamentally, I continue to believe that treating such highly constructed material as real people is not a satisfactory research model. Ethical guidelines that are oriented towards human subjects are not adequate for research that focuses on avatars and other produced on-screen material. The highly personal experiences that some embodied individuals have with Internet material is not the same as what we–as researchers and observers–see on the screen. An account of screen-based material is different than research on specific individuals and it should not be confused with this.

The Discourse about People and Human Subjects: Making the Internet Real

An examination of the Internet’s rhetorical devices and effects shows how representations become people that seem to literally populate the Internet. These representations are confused with people and made animate when avatars are described as "your body double in Cyberspace, your presence in the virtual communities growing inside two and three dimensional virtual worlds online" (DigitalSpace: Avatars Book Home Page and Teleport). Such comments make it seem like the Internet provides a nutritive environment in which physical bodies exist. This conception is facilitated by the employment of such real-time effects as animated sequences, instant messaging, synchronous chat, and webcams. These real-time elements occur at roughly the same speed as things in "real life" so the highly simulated aspects and processing of computer technologies are easier to displace (Webopedia. Real time — Definitions and Links). Their liveness helps to justify the specific strictures of guidelines for Internet research ethics that are based on human subjects models.

Indeed, a variety of effects and texts make it seem like people are alive on the Internet and that the user can enter their homes. The slogan for Jennifer Ringley’s webcam site is "life, online" (Jennifer Ringley. JenniCam: life, online. http://www.jennicam.com) Gwencam’s advertisement encourages the spectator to "enter the life of a college student" (Gwen. Top Girls Cams). The advertisement for Aimee’s site promises a "peek into the life" (Aimee. Top Girls Cams ). However, the researcher and spectator are denied full access to personal and visual information because operators shut down twenty-four hour cams, the technology malfunctions, operators resist requests to reveal their bodies or provide more information, and webcams provide incomplete views of the operator’s body and home setting.

In fact, narratives about the Internet being alive are supported by the seeming authenticity of real-time delivery. According to the character Fritz, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Information isn’t bound up anymore; it is alive. The only reality is virtual. If you are not jacked-in, you are not alive" (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 9, 1997).4 His emphasis on the desirability of using the Internet and being "jacked-in" evokes cyberpunk fiction. This science fiction literature, which had a significant impact on early conceptions of this technology and may continue to effect the ways that we talk about the Internet, has also provided narratives about non-humans being alive. Such novels as Dreamships, Neuromancer, and Synners depict artificial intelligence roaming the net (Gibson, 1984; Scott, 1993; and Cadigan, 1991). Characters like Dixie Flatline from Neuromancer were dead but still somehow alive and populating the Internet. These familiar cyberpunk texts encourage us to accept the animate ways representations and technologies are described.

Comments made by academics and other users also make Internet material seem alive and real. Luciano Paccagnella animates text-based material when he describes it as "logs and messages taken from the actual life of a virtual community" (Paccagnella, 1997). Esther Dyson makes it appear like people live on the Internet rather than use it when she states that "the Net includes all the people, cultures, and communities that live in it" and that "the Net is a home for people" (Dyson, 1997). On some level, all users acknowledge that there are mediated aspects of these representations. However, with the encouragement of varied Internet effects and discourses "it takes little effort to be of the belief that such data represent…well, something, some semblance of reality, perhaps, or some ‘slice of life’ on-line." (Jones, 1999, p. 12)

The concept that things are alive on the Internet is supported by the title of Sherry Turkle’s influential book, Life on the Screen (Turkle, 1995). Norman K. Denizen alludes to Turkle when he refers to "Life on the Net" and "Internet Life" (Denizen, 1999, p. 109). He explains that users respond to posts on newsgroups where "a small number of topics, formed into threads, constitutes the life on the screen" (Denizen, 1999). Yahoo! supports this animate vision by titling its magazine Internet Life. There is an ongoing belief that Internet settings are "peopled and inhabited" (Dourish, 1999, p. 27). Paccagnella describes the Internet as a "dense bazaar inhabited by all kinds of people" (Paccagnella, 1997). Alan Munro, Kristina Höök, and David Benyon argue that "Collaborative virtual environments (CVEs) provide an area where people may interact with each other" (Munro, Höök, & Benyon, 1999). Gretchen Barbatsis, Michael Fegan, and Kenneth Hansen suggest that "Although it is childlike to think that the people and places are somehow actually behind the screen, in that box, we nonetheless engage the computer screen as a gateway to another place" (Barbatsis, Fegan, & Hansen,1999). The AAAS report is entitled "Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects in Cyberspace." However, there are no people inside of the computer or within its systems.

Representing Space

The concept that people are alive on the Internet is supported by the way it is described as a place and space that allows them to congregate. This concept is sustained by William Gibson’s claim, which has been perpetuated through widespread quotation and allusion, that everyone he knows "who works with computers seems to develop a belief that there’s some kind of actual space behind the screen, someplace you can’t see but you know is there" (McCaffery, 1988). Jan Fernback indicates that the "cultural metaphors we have adopted to refer to CMC are place centered" and then insists that "there is a there there" (Fernback, 1999, pp. 206 and 218). Fernback reconfigures Jonathan G. S. Koppell’s "No ‘There’ There: Why Cyberspace Isn’t Anyplace" (Koppell, 2000). He has argued that spatial and navigational terms or the "language we use implies that cyberspace is a place as tangible as France or St. Louis or the coffee shop on the corner" (Koppell, 2000). This spatial vernacular makes it seem like people can directly enter the Internet.

Users often arrange to "meet online" but this doesn’t mean that they will share a physical space; their bodies remain in different geographic locations. The screen becomes spatial and "familiar" through the employment of metaphors like the desktop and file folder (Johnson, 1997; and Munt, 2001). Such phrases as "going somewhere" and "entering" are used when accessing web sites. John Suler suggests that "The modem lights start blinking. TCP is connecting. I’m on my way to the Palace" (Suler. Psychology of Cyberspace — Participant Observation. Psychology of Cyberspace). Users of online games "step in" to the setting and Microsoft asks, "where do you want to go today?" (Powell, quoted in Brown, 2000) There are described progressions and architectural settings, the labeling of certain sites as "home," maps that make it seem like the user can move between rooms, and descriptions of the Internet as the last "open space" and "final frontier." These render an experience of space as well as colonial fantasies of conquest. However, the bodies of users cannot enter into the setting.

The Screen, The Referent (The Thing Described), and the Representation

Internet material is usually viewed on a screen and is produced from texts, images, animated sequences, and varied forms of programming. Even if we want to call this form something like "computer-mediated communication"–and suggest that individuals are speaking–there are still ways that the technologies intervene in the encounter. We are trained to ignore the screen and see things inside or through it in such framed experiences as the automobile windshield, glasses, film, and television. The photographer Pedro Meyer envisions a point in the development of the Internet where the computer and the screen will disappear:

"The computer screen will in time become so ubiquitous that it will no longer draw much attention to itself, and people will no longer bring their initial prejudices to bear on viewing our work on such displays. If the content is to be delivered in an efficient manner, and thus the screen rendered transparent, the only thing remaining will be the nature of the content itself." (Meyer , http://www.zonezero.com/exposiciones/fotografos/fotografio/#)

Meyer’s project and part of the purpose of his photography website is to make this happen so that the screen and perhaps even the photographic material he presents are able to facilitate direct experiences. However, screen-based technologies address and construct certain forms of spectatorship.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin indicate that "Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them"( Bolter & Grusin, 1999). Such points of view, in which the spectator gazes at highly constructed images and sees them as natural, limit the critical interventions that can be performed. Erasing the technology allows the constructed aspects of Internet settings to be described as people. Bolter and Grusin’s claim is illustrated by the societal tendency to emphasize photography’s referential nature and to describe the things depicted by photographs as if they were real. A consideration of the ways photography is associated with the real and critical work that has contested this conception suggests how the reality effect of Internet material can also be resisted.

Our reliance on the truth and presence of photography, what Roland Barthes describes as "that-has-been," is based on the assumption that the camera has recorded light traces from an object that was in front of it (Barthes, 1981, p. 77). There is "a continuous ‘documentary tradition’ which takes the status of photographic evidence as neutral and given" (Tagg, 1993). The "photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image) an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask" (Sontag, 1977). Photography is often inextricably linked to its referent or the thing that it depicts. With computer material, there is an investment in a seemingly indexical relationship between an Internet character and the user’s body. Internet material may seem like a direct imprint of some user that rests directly on the other side of the screen. Gibson’s comments about "the space behind the screen" is linked to William J. Mitchell’s idea that a variety of devices allow for the connection or even collapse of materiality with representations:

[A]s three-dimensional computer graphics became increasingly feasible, as online chatspaces with perspectival scenery and avatar-actors became popular, and as digital video began to erase the distinction between PCs and TVs, the screen clearly became a proscenium again–a hole cut through the membrane separating the space of our bodies and our buildings from cyberspace. (Mitchell, 1999, p. 33)

Such Internet settings as webcams and personal profiles suggest that users can see into people’s lives or even reach through the screen.

The status of the photograph as "a verifiable fact or document continues to linger with contemporary viewers despite the radical impact of digital technology on photographic practice"( Gonzales-Day, http://journals.ohiolink.edu:20080/local-cgi/send-pdf/02051223250525650.pdf). The desire to make digital images stand in for particular moments in time or even to bring the viewer/photographer back to that time is underscored by the title and comments in Meyer’s I Photograph to Remember project. In this photographic and sound memorial to his parents, which he identifies as "the first CD ROM with continuous sound and images that had ever been produced anywhere," Meyer consistently speaks about images as events (Meyer, 2002). The photograph allows him to remember because he believes that it is a conduit to the past. Sontag argues that photographs–and computer representations could be added to this–seem to make people real. People "in industrialized countries seek to have their photographs taken […] and are made real by photographs" (Sontag, 1977, p. 161). Yet, photographs–such as images for the Works Progress Administration (WPA)–are constructed:

Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience. The immensely gifted members of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film. (Sontag, 1977, p. 6.)

In a similar way, Internet material may seem to provide access into individuals’ personal domains and private thoughts. The Blogger site suggests that "Many blogs are personal, ‘what’s on my mind’ type musings" (Blogger, Blogger-About. http://www.blogger.com/about.pyra). However, there are a variety of sites that offer advice on how to produce an appealing product. Dennis A Mahoney’s advice on "How to Write a Better Weblog" suggests that weblog "writers want to make sense. They want to move the reader. It ain’t never gonna happen if you got busted paragraphs, mistaken punctuation and, bad rhythm, not to mention kreative spelling: see? Clarity is key. Learn the rules. Break ’em later" (Mahoney, 2002). His comments encourage the production of weblogs as even more constructed texts.

Internet material is edited and manipulated in order to achieve a set of desired effects and to reach certain kinds of spectators. For instance, many women webcam operators with "lifecam" sites update their sites once a week–by coding and constructing journals, archives, answers to frequently asked questions, chat settings, graphics, and a variety of other features. Aimee updates her site at "least once a week" to make it "more interesting or interactive" (Aimee. Aimee Live Profile-Internet Conferencing. About.com). Ali enjoys "designing the site and coming up with more features more than I do having the cam. The cam is just a way to get people to come to the site" (Ali. Ali-Cam Profile-Internet Conferencing. About.com). Ali runs it because she "like[s] to design!" In a similar way, Amy states that her webcam site is as an "opportunity for me to work on my html skills" (Amy. Amycam Profile-Internet Conferencing. About.com ). The advanced skills that users develop in order to create and post content are negated by describing Internet material as people and failing to note the deeply constructed aspects of interfaces and produced identities. An ethical conflict occurs when the authorship and products of users are not acknowledged in academic research.

The work of photographers, webcam operators, and bloggers provide access to an aesthetic more than any unmediated presence. The WPA photographers worked to achieve "the precise expression on the subject’s face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry" (Sontag, 1977, p. 6). The mediated aspects of photography are obvious when attention is paid to its production process:

Reflected light is gathered by a static, monocular lens of particular construction, set at a particular distance from the objects in its field of view. The projected image of these objects is focused, cropped and distorted by the flat, rectangular plane of the camera, which owes its structure not to the model of the eye, but to a particular theoretical conception of the problems of representing space in two dimensions. (Tagg, 1993, p. 3)

It would be productive to find a similar vocabulary and set of devices that assists users and researchers in understanding the ways that Internet material is made into people. A re-employment of the photographic vocabulary of cropping and rectangular formats can highlight the relationship between individual screen elements, software windows, and monitors. Noting and articulating the repetitive aspects of these Internet forms can also emphasize the ways that people seem to appear through their artifacts. It is the repetition of a set of societal conventions rather than originality or difference that makes these texts real. Realism "works by the controlled and limited recall of a reservoir of similar ‘texts,’ by a constant repetition, a constant cross-echoing:" (Tagg, 1993, p. 99)

What lies "behind" the paper or "behind" the image is not reality — the referent — but reference: a subtle web of discourse through which realism is enmeshed in a complex fabric of notions, representations, images, attitudes, gestures, and modes of action which function as everyday know-how, "practical ideology," norms within and through which people live their relation to the world. It is by the routes it opens to this complex sphere that the realist text trades with that generally received picture of what may be regarded as "real" or "realistic" — a picture which is not recognized as such but rather presents itself as, precisely, the Reality. (Tagg, 1993, p. 100)

Varied Internet settings can also be described as "realist texts." They share conventions, a discourse about aliveness, and present themselves as "the Reality." For instance, connected groups of livejournal writers use similar conventions in their texts and employ such effects as lifecams, user pictures that appear as an introduction to journals and posted comments, and mood icons that indicate how a journal writer is feeling in order to substantiate individuality and authenticity. Women webcam operators include similar comments in the frequently asked questions part of their sites and follow such visual conventions as the "cleavage shot" when depicting themselves. Internet researchers should adopt the strategies of photography critics and foreground repetitive conventions. Critically considering repetition and exploring the vernacular of particular Internet settings would encourage researchers and users to acknowledge the constructed aspects of Internet settings and the instances where human subjects models do not apply.

Constructed Identities and Problems with Internet Verification

It is not fully clear how Internet researchers are studying human subjects or what provides them with verifiable information about people since the bodies and direct actions of individuals are not visible. Steven R. Thomsen, Joseph D. Straubhaar and Drew M. Bolyard focus on the levels of "self disclosure and intimacy" that develop in certain newsgroups but they also suggest the problems with viewing Internet material as people. They ask, when "the researcher selects an online community as the focus of his study, however, where does he actually go and what is he really observing?" (Thomsen, Straubhaar & Bolyard, 1998) They point out that these Internet "communities present the researcher with nothing but text. The ethnographer cannot observe people, other than through their textual contributions to a forum" (Thomsen, Straubhaar and Bolyard, 1998). They also suggest that there are some methods for lessening these problems. However, the link between textual material and people may be even more difficult to articulate than they suggest. It is difficult to perform research that engages with "personal information," instances of textual construction, and the possibility of intentional distortion and falsification.

This is illustrated by Julian Dibbell’s rethinking of his early article about text-based chat settings and virtual rape (Dibbell, 1998). He believed that the typed interactions that facilitated this virtual rape were the work of a single user who manipulated the Mr. Bungle character. However, his more recent recounting suggests some of the more horrific ways that Internet characters do not correlate to a specific person. Collaborative use and fragmented authorship occur in these settings:

Two separate and credible sources revealed to me that the virtual psychosis of Mr. Bungle had been even starker than anyone guessed: that the Bungle account had been the more or less communal property of an entire NYU dorm floor, that the young man at the keyboard on the evening of the rape had acted not alone but surrounded by fellow students calling out suggestions and encouragement, that conceivably none of those people were speaking for Bungle when he showed up in emmeline’s room to answer for the crime, that Dr. Jest himself, thought commonly to have reincarnated the whole Bungle and nothing but the Bungle, in fact embodied just one member of the original mob. (Dibbell, 1998)

As Dibbell’s comments indicate, MOOers and other Internet users are unable to verify that the same typist is always controlling a character. This is referred to as the "typist problem" or the "fact that no matter what account is used, no one can ever be really sure of who is typing at the keyboard at any time" (Allen, 1996).

Many users are aware of this. However, surprised accounts continue to be posted to the web about disruptive hoaxes in text-based chat settings like LambdaMOO, graphical games like Everquest, and livejournals and weblogs:5

You may have heard by now about the Kaycee Nicole incident - effervescent 19-year-old girl relays her epic fight against cancer via weblog ("blog"), readers are shocked to tears when they find out that she has passed away, then readers are even more shocked to learn that she didn’t ever exist. ("On the Internet, No One Knows You’re a Fraud," 2001)

Allucquère Rosanne Stone has offered an earlier account of this sort of conflict. She described the Internet gender-bending and deception of the psychiatrist Sanford Lewin who "became deeply intrigued with the idea of interacting with women as a woman" and created the CompuServe persona of Julie Graham–a mute, paraplegic, and severely disfigured neuropsychologist (Stone, 1995).

Stone suggests that "the nets presaged radical changes in social conventions" that most users did not recognize (Stone, 1995, p. 80). Confidences were violated because of the "different senses in which various actors understood the term person" (Stone, 1995, p. 81). Stone argues that this incident made Internet users aware of Internet masquerades but this is not always the case. Certainly some Internet researchers have not fully addressed the possibility that the identity of the user conflicts with what is stated.

Internet researchers have also employed disguise. Jack Glaser, Jay Dixit, and Donald P. Greene used the anonymity of the Internet to engage in "Internet Relay Chat (IRC) ‘rooms’ affiliated with racist organizations," self-present as "a curious neophyte," and determine positions on racial violence (Glaser, Dixit & Greene, 2002, pp. 181—183). They believe that employing "deceit with regard to the identity of the interviewer (and, in fact, that he was an interviewer at all) was essential to the success of the study" (Glaser, Dixit, & Greene, 2002, p. 190). They express some concern that their study could be skewed and "responses reflected a greater level of endorsement of violence than respondents actually felt" (Glaser, Dixit, & Greene, 2002, p. 191). However, they believe that "there is little cause for concern that respondents were not genuine" (Glaser, Dixit, & Greene, 2002). Their investment in real human subjects and resistance to addressing the ways that respondents misrepresent themselves is perplexing. They demonstrate that disguised researchers employ the Internet.

There are certainly cases where identity manipulation is an issue. However, other users have embraced the liminality of the Internet and been unconcerned over instances of identity masquerade. For instance, a MOOer "decided years ago I really don’t _care_ if it’s a guy. Don’t get me wrong - I’m hopelessly hetero I’m afraid, but I just figure as long as they can *play* a good woman here it really doesn’t matter" (Videx, Message 127 on "*BDSM," LambdaMOO, October 23, 1996, telnet://lambda.moo.mud.org: 8888). The webcam operator Andi supports this conception of shifting identities when she argues that using "a webcam is like being an actress/director. You can just live your life...or be any character you want" (Andi. AndiCam profile-Internet Conferencing. About.com.) The constructed and performative aspects of Internet characters challenge the belief in human subjects upon which a great deal of Internet research guidelines have been based.

Conclusion: The Other Ethics in Internet Research Ethics

It is important to assess whether guidelines for Internet research ethics are enabling some of the more disturbing aspects of the Internet. Chat settings abound with racist, ageist, classist, and sexist images and ideas. Computer material also justifies the perpetuation of physical but certainly not necessary or natural conditions by copying social and cultural conventions from the material world. Describing this computer and Internet material as "people" makes stereotypes seem real. It produces instances of harm by re-inscribing larger cultural prejudices, fears, and intolerance. This should raise ethical concerns. Academics who support stereotyped conceptions through their research methods and terms can effect cultural perceptions more than many other individuals. Medical, Science, and some Social Science researchers can produce instances of harm that are greater than those occurring in everyday life because "society’s decision-makers" and other people are more willing to believe when "basing their decisions on scientific results" and what is perceived to be the truth of scientific research (The National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, 2001).

Treating Internet material as representations would seem to conflict with the NESH guidelines, which is concerned with a quiet extended conception of potential harm that includes human subjects, the families of research subjects, and the deceased. However, there is a contradiction in their proposal as it applies to Internet research because conceiving of Internet material as human subjects can also produce instances of harm. NESH guidelines explicitly state that researchers must consider how their terms and conceptions produce larger cultural beliefs. According to NESH, research "is under an obligation to promote social welfare through its activities. Individual scholars and the authorities responsible for research policy must bear in mind that choices of research topics affect society, both nationally and globally" (The National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, 2001). U.S. researchers should also be concerned about the ways that they can shape intolerant cultural beliefs even if this is not articulated as an ethical issue in the appropriate guidelines.

Dag Elgesem also suggests that research can support undesirable cultural frameworks. He insists that researchers "must consider the possibility that their research on specific behaviors (pornography, hate speech, etc.) may work to legitimate those behaviors." (Dag Elgesem quoted in Association of Internet Researchers Working Group, 2001). I would argue that critical research approaches that present ways to resist or disable objectionable behaviors can resolve these problems. Internet research ethics should facilitate critical and sensitive engagements with the more troubling aspects of the Internet. This is a case in which the ability to engage critically and publicly with representations is imperative.

Unfortunately, the Internet and computer material provides countless examples of stereotypes and hate. Jeffrey Ow discusses the ways that gamers must embody stereotyped conceptions of the Asian male when they perform as the character Lo Wang in the first-person shooter game Shadow Warrior (Ow, 2000, pp. 51-67). Web sites that offer avatars for Virtual Places and other graphical-chat settings have grids of avatar images that are often organized according to race (VPChat. !VPChat: Avatar Shoppe: 2400 Avatars & Gestures! http://www.vpchat.com/avatars/index.html). Many of these images reinforce such racist stereotypes as sultry and passive Asian women. On LambdaMOO and other chat settings, demeaning posts about Asian women, cruel renderings of users that don’t conform to bodily norms, and homosexual panic abound. Internet users develop and employ limited conceptions of the "other" for their own amusement. For instance, the Baiting.org FAQ argues that "Unwanted homosexual sex is, for whatever reason, damn funny. Joking about utter gayness is, in general, damn funny" (Baiting FAQ. Baiting.org. FAQ-Fuck your questions, http://baiting.org/FAQ/).

The maintainers of these sites may find amusement in provoking individuals but the hate sites, forms of hate speech, and stereotypes facilitated by the Internet are not funny. There "is general agreement that the number of hate sites has increased rapidly in recent years. And some anti-hate organizations say it reflects the growing influence of racist groups." (Chaudhry, 2000). Internet hate sites include the "controversial antiabortion Web site the Nuremberg Files, infamous for what critics say is a hit list of abortion providers (with names of those murdered crossed out in black)" (Clarkson, 2001). Since the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled "that comments posted on Web sites and anti-abortion ‘wanted’ posters are not constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment, but rather constitute a ‘true threat,’" The Nuremberg Files site has discontinued their practice of crossing out the names of murdered abortion providers (Mariano, 2002). The Court of Appeals decision encourages us to consider the other ways that hate proliferates through the Internet. Unfortunately, their decision has not radically affected The Nuremberg Files site. It continues to offer police-style booking photos and "rap sheets" with the abortion provider’s home address and other information (The Nuremberg Files, http://www.christiangallery.com/atrocity).

It has been argued that hate sites have not increased the numbers of individuals joining groups (Dixit, 2002). "Groups such as the ADL and the Wiesenthal Center, however, argue membership is not a good measure of the ominous influence of hate sites […]. The sites instead are beginning to promote ‘lone wolf’ or ‘lone shooter’ activism, which encourages individuals to go out and act on their own" (Chaudhry, 2000). The stereotyped ways that some Internet users represent minorities can have even more significant repercussions with this shift from clearly shaped hate groups to individual instances of hate-induced physical violence. Media representations cannot force an individual to do anything. However, the specific ways that some Internet representations support racist conceptions and the tendency in popular and academic literature, Internet material, and guidelines for Internet research ethics to turn these representations into viable people can support the most limited views of different individuals. The NESH guidelines advises that research "which aims at gathering information on the characteristics and behaviour of persons and groups should avoid using divisions or designations which give rise to unreasonable generalisation, resulting in practice in the stigmatization of particular social groups" (The National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, 2001). NESH discourages critical strategies but it is just these political forms of critical research that can diffuse instances where Internet settings generate stigmatization.

There are a variety of things that academics can do in order to encourage a range of Internet research, including critical work. There are certainly researchers who will continue to use the model of human subjects. However, even for these researchers there are reasons to foreground the Internet’s constructed aspects. Describing the varied materials on the Internet as computer representations can have a drastic effect on the ways that we–and perhaps society–can view and critique these settings, the ways that different individuals are rendered, and the kinds of academic research areas that would apply. Clearly addressing the conflicts between the discourse about people and the produced aspects of Internet material–as AOIR’s current guidelines begin to do–will allow varied academics to engage in Internet research and encourage different conceptions of the Internet.

We should resist any personal or discipline-wide attempts to legislate the areas of study that have the "appropriate" skills to do Internet research. In order to demonstrate that all of this material needs to be critiqued, researchers who write about the Internet might also leave their sites and dialogues available for purview. "Warning signs" on Internet researchers’ sites–which ask individuals not to quote any material–are antithetical to academic engagement. One thing that is not "new" in the debate about Internet research ethics is the disciplinary fighting and staking of territory that has accompanied it. In this new area of inquiry, collaborative and hybrid forms of research can provide us with the tools to discuss these settings. Internet research ethics is going to have an affect on the forms of research that are sanctioned or even permissible, the ways that we understand Internet culture, and our larger understandings of individuals and society. A truly ethical model of Internet research ethics would acknowledge such outcomes and encourage a variety of histories and disciplines. It would develop guidelines and rules that consider these problems at the same time as it foregrounds their possible effects.

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Sherry Turkle. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1995.

VPChat. !VPChat: Avatar Shoppe: 2400 Avatars & Gestures! (Retrieved April 14, 2000, from http://www.vpchat.com/avatars/index.html)

Michele White. Regulating Research: The Problem of Theorizing Community on LambdaMOO. Ethics and Information Technology, 4 (1): 55-70, 2001.

Michele White. The Aesthetic of Failure: Net Art Gone Wrong. Angelaki: Journal of Theoretical Humanities, Special Issue on Aesthetics and the Ends of Art, ed. Gary Banham. Forthcoming.

Endnotes

* This article could not have been written without the kind support of the National Science Foundation, Institute for Advanced Study, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I greatly appreciate the encouragement, critical comments, and grant writing efforts of Helen Nissenbaum and Charles Ess. My delightful conversations with Charles and the other "Internet Research Ethics" panel participants at the Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiries Conference helped in thinking through this material. I also want to thank Kate Hayles and my colleagues at the NEH Summer Seminar‹"Literature in Transition: The Impact of Information Technologies"‹for indulging me and discussing the issue of spatial conventions at length. BACK

1 On LambdaMOO and MediaMOO there has even been a call to try to halt the work of some researchers, to remove them from the forum and debate, and to have their work questioned by their Institutional Review Board (IRB) or graduate adviser. See Michele White. Regulating Research: The Problem of Theorizing Community on LambdaMOO. Ethics and Information Technology , 4 (1), pp. 55-70; and LambdaMOO and MediaMOO *Research lists. *Research, LambdaMOO, (telnet://lambda.moo.mud.org: 8888) and *Research, MediaMOO, (telnet://mediamoo.media.mit.edu). BACK

2 The Ethics of Research in Virtual Communities Conference, Media MOO, January 20, 1997. (Retrieved June 9, 2002, from http://asb.www.media.mit.edu/people/asb/mediamoo/ethics-symposium.html); Jim Thomas, editor. The Information Society 12, no. 2, 1996. (Retrieved August 14, 2000, from http://venus.soci.niu.edu/~jthomas/ethics/ethics.html); Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference, Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto, 4-7 April 2000. (Retrieved June 9, 2002, from http://www.cfp2000.org/program/full-program.html); Internet Research 2.0: The Second International Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, University of Minnesota, 10-14 October 2001; and "Internet Research Ethics," Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiries (CEPE) Conference, Lancaster University, UK, December 14-16, 2001. BACK

3 In Internet settings like usenet - where even the most limited quotation can be accessed by searching an engine like Google - it is probably impossible to quote material and facilitate the complete disguise of character names. BACK

4 Fritz is scorned for his description of the Internet. However, his vision of live information is monstrously fulfilled. Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swyden (Writers), & Stephen Posey (Director). I Robot, You Jane [Television series episode]. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 9, 1997. BACK

5 An account about "fraud" on LambdaMOO was posted to "StopAglaia ­ The plight of Nancy Nusbaum" (Retrieved June 6, 2002, from http://www.throwabrick.com/) and Robin Gaby Fisher. Web of Deceit Unravels. Newhouse News Service. (Retrieved June 6, 2002, from http://www.newhousenews.com/archive/story1c031102.html). A description of the "hoax" on Everquest appears in Janelle Brown. Life, Death and Everquest. Salon.com. November 21, 2000. (Retrieved June 6, 2002, from http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/11/21/virtual_suicide/index1.html). For a discussion of trolling, deceptions, impersonation, and identity concealment see Judith S. Donath. Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community. In Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock, editors, Communities in Cyberspace. Routledge, New York, 1999. (Retrieved June 8, 2002, from http://smg.media.mit.edu/people/judith/Identity/IdentityDeception.html). BACK


Introduction
Charles Ess

Ethical Issues of Online Communication Research
Rafael Capurro & Christoph Pingel

What is special about the ethical issues in online research?
Dag Elgesem

Research Ethics in Internet-Enabled Research: Human Subjects Issues and Methodological Myopia
Joseph B. Walther

Studying the Amateur Artist: A Perspective on Disguising Data Collected in Human Subjects Research on the Internet
Amy Bruckman

Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model
E. H. Bassett & Kathleen O'Riordan