Representations or People?
Abstract: Most guidelines and proposals for Internet research ethics are based on regulations for
human subjects research. In the related research, Internet material is viewed as animate and described as people.
Humanities researchers have rarely been a part of the debate about Internet research ethics and the practices
of these scholars have not been taken into consideration when drafting most of the guidelines. This threatens
to limit the kinds of Internet research that can be performed - critical strategies are particularly discouraged - and
the ways that researchers and other users understand the Internet. Researchers who use human subjects models have
not fully acknowledged computer mediation, the constructed aspects of Internet representations, and the screen. If
we view Internet material as cultural production then the models for Internet research would 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 show instances in which human subjects guidelines do not apply to complex Internet material. It
is imperative to demonstrate that Internet material is not people because this conception makes highly constructed
words and images seem natural and stereotyped representations appear to be real.
Ethical Issues of Online Communication Research
Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model