Qualitative Online Interviews: 1 - 16 May, 2014

Fair & Good? Ethics & Quality in Online Research

Fair & Good? Ethics & Quality in Online Research

by Janet Salmons -
Number of replies: 7

Online Research Ethics Map

Join the Fair & Good webinar on Monday 5/5 @ 17:00 GMT or 1 EDT

A link to the recording will be posted after the event.

When reflecting on your own design or completed study, when reviewing student work-- or serving as a peer reviewer-- what should you look for in qualitative studies that use data collected online? What ethical questions should be considered? These are some of the topics we'll discuss.

As background to this conversation, you might these two documents of interest. One is a report I put together this spring after an analysis of discussion transcripts from the New Social Media, New Social Science network to identify ethical dilemmas reported by researchers, and a review association ethics codes to see whether and how these emergent issues were addressed. I discussed the report in this recorded presentation. Reviewed materials included guidelines from the Association of Internet Researchers(AOIR), British Educational Research Association (BERA), British Psychological Society (BPS), CASROEuropean Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR) and Market Research Society (MRS), and Association (MRA) and a number of books and articles listed here.

The other is based on a study that looked at social media users' perspectives on the use of their content by researchers. 

As the map illustrating this post shows, online research ethics are complex. But to conduct quality research that adds new knowledge, we need to find ways to navigate this maze and make the best decisions. Given the scope of the topic, we won't be able to cover the full range of issues in one webinar. Please post your questions and dilemmas and I'll do my best to cover them. Even better, come and ask your questions in the webinar!


In reply to Janet Salmons

Re: Fair & Good? More on informed consent...

by Janet Salmons -

Success Strategy: Keep “informed” in Informed Consent

Many researchers view informed consent as an obstacle, a required step that takes time and keeps them from the desired activities involved with actually conducting the study. Others, such as the British Psychological Society (2013), see problems for online researchers who try to "inform" participants online:

Participants may nominally give consent but without actually reading the relevant information. In this sense, consent is provided but it is not informed consent. …

However, as discussed in the webinar, the consent process can be an opportunity for qualitative researchers to make sure they are on the same  (virtual) page. It is a time to clarify:

  • Expectations for participant: How many interviews or interactions do you want to have with the participant? What do you want them to contribute to the study, over what period of time?
  • Types of data you intend to collect: In addition to the interview are you planning to use participants' posts or exchanges on one or more social networking site(s)? Images or media?
  • Options for using identifying characteristics or direct quotations (or not). Can you use avatar names? Can you use exact wording of quotes? Is it acceptable or not, to identify the participant? If the participant wants to be anonymous, what characteristics might allow someone to identify the participant? 
  • Potential publication of the findings: Does the participant understand that the data will be used in scholarly, popular or other kinds of publications.

I've created a handout, with an example posted in Survey Monkey for an informed consent agreement with questions/options you can use. See the handout here:http://vision2lead.com/design/. 

I suggest discussing the agreement as well as just sending/posting a document. The interview can begin by reviewing key points in the agreement, especially any items you think might be sensitive.

Please post any thoughts, questions or example!



See: British Psychological Association (BPS) Report of the Working Party on Conducting Research on the Internet: Guidelines for ethical practice in psychological research online (2013) http://www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/conducting_research_on_the_internet-guidelines_for_ethical_practice_in_psychological_research_online.pdf

In reply to Janet Salmons

Informed consent from indirect participants

by Dawn Gilmore -

Hello Everyone,

One of the issues mentioned in the recording for example was what to do about bystanders in photos who have not consented to the study.

My question is similar to this. 

For my study I will be recruiting participants from two university subjects to complete online longitudinal surveys and one semi structured online interview.

My two other data streams are from the activity logs (learning analytics) from the learning management system and the discussion board posts. 

I would like to code the entire discussion board, however what do I do about those students who have not consented? 

I have done a literature review of university discussion boards however this is not something that has been addressed in the studies.

Do we agree that the discussion board posts are a public domain which can freely be used for research?

Any suggestions?



In reply to Dawn Gilmore

Re: Informed consent from indirect participants

by Jenny Mackness -

Hello Dawn - this is an interesting question that you have raised and one that I have been wondering about, i.e. where do measures of private/public begin or end. 

Personally - and I have no evidence or research to back me up on this (Janet, I'm sure will be able to help) - I do not see University discussion forums (I assume you mean within a University LMS) as public. If I were a student, I would expect anything I posted within my University course to be for University eyes only. I expect that is naive.

On the other hand a wise student or learner would, I think, never believe that anything posted is 'private', i.e. everything is public by default. 

But in all circumstances, I would expect common courtesy to prevail i.e. if we want to use data from discussion forums, then we need to ask the students if they agree to this.

Oh what a messy business!

In reply to Dawn Gilmore

Re: Informed consent from indirect participants

by Janet Salmons -

I would consider a university online class as a private space where only tuition-paying registered students can log in. In the US we have Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Regulations (FERPA) that is pretty strict about student information.

If this were a discussion on a social media site, you might be able to justify coding posts from people who did not consent, but I think in a class that would be problematic.(See this continuum: http://vision2lead.com/?p=541. )


So I would say you might be able to do a very top-level coding looking at broad trends where personally identifiable information is not recorded (i.e. do people post more substantive content on Mondays or Wednesdays?) But when you get into the substance of what people are posting, you'd need to exclude data from those who did not consent.


In reply to Janet Salmons

Webinar Recording: Fair & Good? Ethics & Quality in Online Research

by Sylvia Currie -

For those who missed today's webinar or wish to revisit, here is the recording

It was an excellent overview! I pulled out a few comments/questions from the text chat, mostly related to the 4 challenges presented.

Cristina Miguel: Is it ethical to use a personal account to do research?

Cristina Miguel: My study includes 3 case studies: Badoo, CouchSurfing, and Facebook and I created academic account in all of them, but I decided to keept using my CouchSurfing account because I have a good reputation in the network...I did interviews...and I'm going to do user profiles analysis

Sylvia Currie: Cristina, your comment about reputation makes me think that it also becomes more authentic if you use your own identity

Faye: I too am going to do (email) interviews. I was planning to do an Information Sheet rather than the long IC form.

Sylvia Currie: I like the suggestion not to think of informed consent as a barrier but as an opportunity to have clarity about what you're collecting

Sylvia Currie: Thinking about email interviews... I wonder if we can ever be confident that it's been deleted from server.

Faye: That [email] is not something either I or our University IRB thought about/required. Gmail is encrypted for transmission, receipt and sending-- if deleted from the account, wonder about the server. How could that be found out-- if actually deleted from the server?

Cristina Miguel: I did only 2 online interviews... I conducted my interviews face-to-face... I found participants opened up more face-to-face... I used the Badoo chat to conduct these 2 interviews

Cristina Miguel: What would you say it is the best online ethics source?

Faye: Does your book cover email interviews?

Janet Salmons: Yes the book covers all kinds of interviews online and related observations

Edit note: updated the recording link 11 May, 2014.

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Webinar Recording: Fair & Good? Ethics & Quality in Online Research

by Dawn Gilmore -


When I try to watch the recording, I enter my name and password but it claims it does not exist.

Any advice?



In reply to Dawn Gilmore

Re: Webinar Recording: Fair & Good? Ethics & Quality in Online Research

by Sylvia Currie -

Hi Dawn,

Sorry about that, and thanks for letting us know! That link seems to be asking for administrator access. Not sure where it came from!

In any case, here's one that works. I'll edit the original post as well.