Recasting Justice for Internet and Online Industry Research Ethics
Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Cases and Challenges. M. Zimmer and K. Kinder-Kuranda (Eds.), n.p. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, Forthcoming
27 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2016
Date Written: September 8, 2016
The rise of behavioral research and experimentation by online companies and, in particular, social networking sites presents new challenges for internet research ethics (IRE) today. It has also reinvigorated conversations about respect, autonomy, and consent in online research, especially as it relates to users who may not know that their data is being used for research purposes. Compared to these values, however, the value of justice for online industry research has received relatively little attention. In this chapter, we revisit feminist and other discussions that argue for a more expansive conception of justice in research ethics and explore their implications for industry and other researchers who have greater influence over the design and practices of online platforms, especially those platforms that foster hostile environments for vulnerable or otherwise disadvantaged populations. As we discuss below, conditions of harassment and abuse on social networking sites systematically affect women and people of color. Consequently, these groups shoulder a greater share of the social, political, and emotional burden of online participation – the very thing that generates the sorts of data that support the efforts of industry researchers. In view of this, we argue that researchers have – specifically as a matter of research ethics – an obligation not only to avoid replicating or compounding existing injustices in their research but to foreground the needs and safety of vulnerable users and attend to those conditions and practices that give rise to injustice in the first place.
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