Call for Book Chapters:”Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Cases and Challenges”
Editors: Michael Zimmer and Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda
Publisher: Peter Lang: Digital Formations (Steve Jones, series editor)
The Internet and related social media technologies and platforms have opened up vast new means for communication, socialization, expression, and collaboration. They also have provided new resources for researchers seeking to explore, observe, and measure human opinions, activities and interactions. Increasingly, social media tools are used to aid traditional research: subjects might be recruited through Facebook or Twitter, surveys are administered and shared online, and data is often stored and processed on social and collaborative Web-based platforms and repositories. Social media has also emerged as a preferred domain for research itself: ethnographies take place within massively online social environments, entire collections of Facebook profile pages are scraped for data analysis, and public Twitter streams are routinely mined for academic purposes. Process data such as timestamps or logs are allowing researchers to model usage across time and space employing new computational methods.
In short, academic research has begun to fully embrace what Maria Azua describes in her book, “The Social Factor: Innovate, Ignite, and Win through Mass Collaboration and Social Networking,” as “the social age,” the leveraging of the Internet and pervasive connected devices to enhance communication, information exchange, collaboration, and social interactions. As a result, researchers studying the internet find themselves immersed in a domain where information flows freely but potentially bound by contextual norms and expectations, where platforms may oscillate between open and closed information flows, and where data may be user-generated or proprietary. They are confronted with new economies of attention, where algorithms, memes and crowdfunding play a role in what is made visible on the Internet.
As in its offline counterpart, Internet and social media-based research raises critical ethical issues of risk and safety to the human subject. The many disciplines already long engaged in human subjects research (such as medicine, anthropology, psychology, communication) have long-standing ethical codes and policies intended to guide researchers and those charged with ensuring that research on human subjects follows both legal requirements and ethical practices, and ethical review boards are charged with approving, monitoring, and reviewing research involving humans to ensure the rights and welfare of the research subjects are protected.
But in the so-called “social age” – where individuals increasingly share personal information on platforms with porous and shifting boundaries, the aggregation of data from disparate sources is increasingly the norm, and web-based services, and their privacy policies and terms of service statements change too rapidly for an average user to keep up – the ethical frameworks and assumptions traditionally used by researchers and review boards alike are frequently challenged and, in some cases, inadequate. Researchers using the Internet as a tool or a space of research – and their ethical review boards – are confronted with a continuously expanding set of ethical dilemmas: What ethical obligations do researchers have to protect the privacy of subjects engaging in activities in “public” Internet spaces? Which national or international ethical standards apply when researching global networks, communities, or information flows? How is confidentiality or anonymity assured online? How is and should informed consent be obtained online? How should research on minors be conducted, and how do you prove a subject is not a minor? Is deception (pretending to be someone you are not or withholding identifiable information) in online spaces a norm, or a harm? Is “harm” possible to someone existing online in digital spaces? What are researchers’ obligations in spaces which are governed by platform providers? How should contend with inequalities in data access and uncertainties about data provenance and quality?
In recent years, a growing number of scholars have begun exploring this new domain of Internet research ethics, numerous scholarly associations have drafted ethical guidelines for Internet research, and government regulatory authorities are starting to confront the myriad of ethical concerns Internet-based research brings to light.
“Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Cases and Challenges” will provide a necessary update to this existing scholarship in four critical ways:
• First, as Internet tools and platforms continue to evolve at a rapid pace, we will seek to include brief case studies highlighting unique uses — and related ethical concerns — of the current state-of-the-art technologies and platforms, including new social media platforms like Vine and Tinder, cloud and distributed computing, wearable devices, health tracking applications, and so on.
• Second, we will strive to expand the disciplinary terrain impacted by Internet-based research, expanding the investigation of research approaches within the social sciences to include computer science, medicine, engineering, and business, resulting in a more inclusive umbrella of domains that must confront the challenges of Internet research ethics.
• Third, we will strive for a more global approach to the challenges of Internet research ethics, soliciting contributions from researchers in diverse regulatory environments, as well as those dealing with the complex ethical dimensions of researching platforms and users that cross borders.
• And fourth, we will also pay attention to the new ‘players’ in the domain of internet research ethics, such as platform providers and other commercial data owners who might engage in their own research, frequently disrupting traditional mechanisms of ethical review.
We envision two kinds of submissions for “Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Cases and Challenges”:
– New Cases in Internet Research Ethics: We seek to include brief case studies highlighting unique uses — and related ethical concerns — of current state-of-the-art technologies and platforms within research contexts. Case studies can be descriptive and illustrative, and don’t necessarily need to resolve the ethical concerns. Cases could be examples from one’s own research, or an overview of various related projects in the field. Examples from industry, government, and academia are welcome.
Topics for cases include, but are not limited to:
• Social network analysis
• Meta-data and log analysis
• Digital ethnography
• Mobile applications
• Wearable computers
• Facebook Emotion Contagion debate
• Personal tracking
• Internet shaming
– New Challenges in Internet Research Ethics: Complementing the inclusion of various emerging cases, the 2nd part of the volume will provide broader discussions of new challenges in Internet research ethics. These chapters will tend to be more normative and analytical, engaging with the conceptual dimensions of Internet research ethics. We especially seek examples that consider a global perspective.
Topics for discussion of challenges include, but are not limited to:
• What constitutes a human subject?
• What is the nature of Informed consent in online environments?
• Issues of privacy and anonymity
• Tracking & location privacy
• Citizen science & crowdsourcing data collection
• Information security
• Data sharing & openness
• Transnational information flows
• Internal and industry-sponsored research
Submission details and timeline:
Potential contributors are invited to submit a 2-3 page chapter proposal to InternetResearchEthicsBook@gmail.com by December 1, 2015, detailing the chapter’s contribution and fit with the book, and the structure of the proposed chapter.
Authors will be notified by January 15, 2016 as to the status of their proposal and sent formatting requirements. Full chapters should be 5,000-8,000 words in length (case studies may be shorter) and are due on May 1, 2016. After a round of editorial reviews, final revised manuscripts will be due on August 15, 2016.
Dr. Michael Zimmer
School of Information Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Dr. Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda
GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences
Institute for Web Science and Technologies at Koblenz University
The book will be published within the Peter Lang “Digital Formations” series, edited by Dr. Steve Jones (UI-Chicago). Target publication date is late 2016/early 2017.