Considering the Electronic Participant: Some Polemical Observations on the Ethics of Online Research

Document Type


Publication Date



Ethical issues arise at all phases of the research act. However, this article is intended to identify and discuss ethical issues that researchers should consider during the research act at the phase of methodology construction and in the course of data collection. During this phase, researchers must be keenly aware of the experiential dimension of the phenomena they are studying, taking great care not to harm the participants or the context of the research itself. This article explores ethical issues that emerge from the dynamic form of interaction that defines on-line communication. On-line communication is a form of social interaction that is publicly private, anonymous, multiple and simultaneous, and faceless/nonoral. The publicly private nature of on-line interaction necessitates that researchers distinguish between what is ''publicly accessible'' and ''publicly distributed.'' It must be acknowledged that ''private interactions'' persist in spite of ''public accessibility.'' The anonymity of on-line interaction is fundamentally different from the anonymity that is prescribed by standards of ethical research, and care must be taken not to confuse the two. The multiple and simultaneous nature of on-line interaction poses logistical difficulties in the acquisition of informed consent. Finally, the faceless and nonoral nature of on-line interaction poses threats of extreme objectification.


Sociology and Corrections

Publication Title

The Information Society: An International Journal