Internet Research Ethics and Social Media

  • Charles Melvin EssEmail author
Living reference work entry


Internet research ethics (IRE) is introduced via a historical overview of its development by the Association of Internet Researchers’ ethics committees (2002, 2012, 2020) and the Norwegian Research Ethics Committees (2003, 2006, [2018] 2019). These overlapping but importantly distinctive guidelines foreground key norms and principles (starting with human autonomy and dignity), ethical frameworks (utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, feminist ethics, care ethics), and prevailing, especially question-oriented approaches to identifying and resolving representative ethical challenges in internet research. Comparing and contrasting these (and other relevant) guidelines further introduce us to additional central elements of assumptions regarding personhood and moral agency (individual vis-à-vis relational); respecting and incorporating diverse national/cultural ethical traditions and norms by way of an ethical pluralism; the role of dialogical, process approaches and reflective ethical judgment (phronēsis); interweaving ethics and methods; and considering ethical challenges characteristic of distinct stages of research. Two challenges evoked by Big Data research techniques are examined, beginning with the possibilities and limitations of informed consent and researchers’ possible use of “gray data” (personal information that is hacked and thus made public and available to researchers). Current and future challenges cluster about protecting both researchers’ and subjects’ privacy – specifically, privacy as now reconceptualized in terms of contextual integrity as appropriate to the more relational selves facilitated especially by social media – in an emerging Internet of Things (IoT).


Internet research ethics Virtue ethics Care ethics Feminist ethics Deontology Utilitarianism Human Subjects Protections Informed consent Ethical pluralism Reflective judgment (phronēsis


  1. Barad K (2007) Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Duke University Press, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  2. British Psychological Society (2017) Ethics guidelines for internet-mediated research. INF206/04.2017. Leicester.
  3. Buchanan E, Ess C (2008) Internet research ethics: the field and its critical issues. In: Himma K, Tavani H (eds) The handbook of information and computer ethics. Wiley, New York, pp 273–292Google Scholar
  4. Buchanan EA, Zimmer M (2018) Internet research ethics. In: Edward N. Zalta (ed) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  5. Ess C (2015) New selves, new research ethics? In: Ingierd H, Fossheim H (eds) Internet research ethics. Cappelen Damm, Oslo, pp 48–76Google Scholar
  6. Ess C (2018) Ethics in HMC: recent developments and case studies. In: Guzman A (ed) Human-machine communication: rethinking communication, technology, and ourselves. Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 237–257Google Scholar
  7. Ess C, Fossheim H (2013) Personal data: changing selves, changing privacy expectations. In: Hildebrandt M, O’Hara K, Waidner M (eds) Digital enlightenment forum yearbook 2013: the value of personal data. Amsterdam, IOS Amsterdam, pp 40–55Google Scholar
  8. Ess C, Hård af Segerstad Y (2019) Everything old is new again: the ethics of digital inquiry and its design. In: Mäkitalo Å, Nicewonger TE, Elam M (eds) Designs for experimentation and inquiry: approaching learning and knowing in digital transformation. Routledge, London, pp 179–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ess C, The Association of Internet Researchers Ethics Working Committee (2002) Ethical decision-making and internet research: recommendations from the AoIR ethics working committee.
  10. European Data Protection Supervisor (2018) Towards a digital ethics. Ethics Advisory Group.
  11. Floridi L (2013) Distributed Morality in an Information Society. Sci Eng Ethics 19:727. Scholar
  12. Fotopoulou A (forthcoming) Understanding citizen data practices from a feminist perspective: embodiment and the ethics of care. In: Stephansen H, Trere E (eds) Citizen media and practice. Taylor & Francis/Routledge, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  13. Frankel MS, Siang S (1999) Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research in Cyberspace. A Report of a Workshop, June 10–11. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, p 1999Google Scholar
  14. Franzke A (2019) Feminist research ethics. In: franzke et al Internet research: ethical guidelines 3.0. pp 28–37Google Scholar
  15. franzke a, Bechmann A, Ess C, Zimmer M, The AoIR Ethics Working Group (2020) Internet research: ethical guidelines 3.0Google Scholar
  16. GDPR General Data Protection Regulation, (GDPR) Regulation EU 2016/679. Approved 27 April 2016, implemented May 25 2018.
  17. Gilligan C (1982) In a different voice: psychological theory and women’s development. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  18. Goffman E (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. Penguin Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Hall GJ, Frederick D, Johns MD (2003) “NEED HELP ASAP!!!” A feminist communitarian approach to online research ethics. In: Johns M, Chen SL, Hall J (eds) Online social research: methods, issues, and ethics. Peter Lang, New York, pp 239–252Google Scholar
  20. Hård af Segerstad Y, Kullenberg C, Kasperowski D, Howes C (2017) Studying closed communities on-line: digital methods and ethical considerations beyond informed consent and anonymity. In: Zimmer M, Kinder-Kurlanda K (eds) Internet research ethics for the social age: new challenges, cases, and contexts. Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 213–225Google Scholar
  21. Hjarvard S (2017) Mediatization (Critical theory approaches to media effects). In: International encyclopedia of media effects. Wiley.
  22. Hoffman AL, Jonas A (2017) Recasting justice for internet and online industry research ethics. In: Zimmer M, Kinder-Kurlanda K (eds) Internet research ethics for the social age. Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 3–18Google Scholar
  23. Hongladarom S (2017) internet research ethics in a non-western context. In: Zimmer M, Kinder-Kurlanda K (eds) Internet research ethics for the social age: new challenges, cases, and contexts. Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 151–163Google Scholar
  24. Jackson D, Aldrovandi C, Hayes P (2015) Ethical framework for a disaster management decision support system which harvests social media data on a large scale. In Bellamine Ben Saoud N et al (eds) ISCRAM-med 2015. pp 167–180), LNBIP 233. Scholar
  25. King S (1996) Researching internet communities: proposed ethical guidelines for the reporting of results. Inf Soc 12(2):119–128. Scholar
  26. Kramer A, Guillory J, Hancock J (2014) Experimental evidence of massive scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111 (24: June 17, 2014) 8788–8790; first published June 2, 2014. Scholar
  27. Lange, P (2007) Publicly private and privately public: social networking on YouTube. J Comput-Mediat Commun 13 (1: 2007), article 18. Scholar
  28. Leurs K (2017) Feminist data studies. Using digital methods for ethical, reflexive and situated socio-cultural research. Fem Rev 115(1):130–154. Scholar
  29. Locatelli E (2020) Corporate data: ethical considerations. In: franzke et al Internet research: ethical guidelines 3.0. pp 45–54Google Scholar
  30. Lomborg S (2012) Negotiating privacy through phatic communication: a case study of the blogging self. Philos Technol 25:415–434. Scholar
  31. Luka ME, Milette M (2018) (Re)framing big data: activating situated knowledges and a feminist ethics of care in social media research. Soc Media Soc 4(2):1–10. Scholar
  32. Lupton D (2018) How do data come to matter? Living and becoming with personal data. Big Data & Society (July–December 2018). pp 1–11. Scholar
  33. Markham A (2006) Method as ethic, ethic as method. J Inf Ethics 15(2):37–54. Scholar
  34. Markham A, Buchanan E (2012) Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (Version 2.0).
  35. Massanari A (2017) #Gamergate and the fappening: how Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media Soc 19(3):329–346. Scholar
  36. McKee H, Porter JE (2009) The ethics of internet research: a rhetorical, case-based process. Peter Lang, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  37. McKee H, Porter J (2010) Rhetorica online: feminist research practices in cyberspace. In: Schell EE, Rawson KJ (eds) Rhetorica in motion: feminist rhetorical methods & methodologies. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, pp 152–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mukherjee I (2017) Case study of ethical and privacy concerns in a digital ethnography of South Asian Blogs against intimate partner violence. In: Zimmer M, Kinder-Kurlanda K (eds) Internet research ethics for the social age. Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 203–212Google Scholar
  39. NESH (The [Norwegian] National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities) ([2018] 2019) A guide to internet research ethics. NESH, Oslo.
  40. Nissenbaum H (2010) Privacy in context: technology, policy, and the integrity of social life. Stanford University Press, Palo AltoGoogle Scholar
  41. OHRP (Office for Human Research Protections) (2018) Subpart A of 45 CFR Part 46: basic HHS policy for protection of human subjects.
  42. Poor N (2017) The ethics of using hacked data: Patreon’s data hack and academic data standards. In: Zimmer M, Kinder-Kurlanda K (eds) Internet research ethics for the social age. Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 278–280Google Scholar
  43. Rambukkana N (2019) The politics of gray data: digital methods, intimate proximity, and research ethics for work on the “Alt-Right”. Qual Inq 25(3):312–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rensfeldt AB, Hillman T, Lantz-Andersson A, Lundin M, Peterson L (2019) A “Situated ethics” for researching teacher professionals’ emerging facebook group discussions. In: Mäkitalo A, Nicewonger TE, Elam M (eds) designs for experimentation and inquiry: approaching learning and knowing in digital transformation. Routledge, London, pp 197–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Simon J (2015) Distributed epistemic responsibility in a hyperconnected era. In: Floridi L (ed) The onlife manifesto: being human in a hyperconnected era. Springer Open, London, pp 145–159Google Scholar
  46. Suomela T, Chee F, Berendt B, Rockwell G (2019) Applying an ethics of care to internet research: Gamergate and digital humanities. Digital Studies/Le champ numérique 9(1).
  47. Taylor C (1989) Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  48. Taylor L, Floridi L, van der Sloot B (eds) (2017) Group privacy: new challenges of data technologies. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  49. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1979) The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research.
  50. The [Norwegian] National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (NESH) (2006) Forskningsetiske retningslinjer for samfunnsvitenskap, humaniora, juss og teologi [Research ethics guidelines for social sciences, the humanities, law and theology]Google Scholar
  51. Tiidenberg K (2018) Research ethics, vulnerability, and trust on the Internet. In: Hunsinger J, Klastrup L, Allen M (eds) Second international handbook of Internet research. Springer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  52. Tong R, Williams N (2018) Feminist ethics. In: Zalta EN (ed) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
  53. Vallor S (2010) Social networking technology and the virtues. Ethics Inf Technol 12:157–170. Scholar
  54. Vallor S (2016) Technology and the virtues: a philosophical guide to a future worth wanting. MIT Press, Cambridge, MACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. van Schie G, Westra I, Schäfer MT (2016) Get your hands dirty: emerging data practices as challenge for research integrity. In: Schäfer MT, van Ess K (eds) The datafied society: studying culture through data. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, pp 183–200Google Scholar
  56. Walstrom M (2004) Ethics and engagement in communication scholarship: analyzing public, online support groups as researcher/participant-experiencer. In: Buchanan E (ed) Readings in virtual research ethics: issues and controversies. Information Science, Hershey, pp 174–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Westlund A (2009) Rethinking relational autonomy. Hypatia 24(4: Fall):26–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zevenbergen B, Mittelstadt B, Véliz C, Detweiler C, Cath C, Savulescu J, Whittaker M (2015) Philosophy meets internet engineering: Ethics in networked systems research. (GTC workshop outcomes paper). Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
  59. Zimmer M (2016) OKCupid study reveals the Perils of Big-Data science. Wired Opinion (May 14).

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media and CommunicationUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations