Is it ethical to use information we find on the internet in research?

Who could have predicted that within such a short space of time, the internet would transform the way we as individuals communicate, keep in touch with one another, share opinions and ideas, express views and fears, and all behind the veil of anonymity. One example which shows how an idea can spread like wildfire is the quite a recent craze to hit Facebook- the campaign to make the African Warlord -Kony- famous. One day you’ve never heard of the name, the next its all over your news feed.

It seems you can just about find out anything you need, with the internet offering an overwhelming amount of information. Its all too tempting to involve information we have found on the internet when looking into an area of research, but to what extent can this information, ethically, be used? Everyone knows that blogs are open to the public, or in other words, anyone of the 2,267,233,742 internet users in the world. With the publisher of the blogs knowing this, does that mean that they have given us consent to use their opinions or views as data? Or must we directly ask the publisher to give full consent? 

Another way of thinking of consent is as permission. When I think of it that way, by simply publishing a blog it doesn’t mean we are giving someone permission to use our material.

A hurdle to obtaining consent is anonymity. Many can hide behind a false identity, or no identity at all. 

My initial reaction to this question was to roll my eyes at how over the top we can be when tiptoeing around the touchy subject of informed consent…but then I pondered… how would I feel if someone where to use my blogs?? So long as I was to remain anonymous I don’t think I’d have a problem with it (although if they did make contact to ask for consent I’d tell them not to waste their time!)


However there are plenty of blogs out there which have slightly more emotion attached than my forced statistics blog!

There are plenty of blogs out there which offer support to individuals going through a tough time, would it be ok to use their heartfelt opinions without consent?

Data from the internet can be very useful, but also full of hurdles and ethical dilemmas because of this, researchers need to approach information found on the internet carefully.

Kissing deadlines!!



Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “Is it ethical to use information we find on the internet in research?

  1. You make some really good points about the growing influence that the internet has on our society. I also agree that when considering whether or not to use data found on the internet, one must be very careful as to the source for both ethical reasons, and whether we can actually trust the research!
    With regards to ethics, sometimes it is impossible to find and contact the person who posted the blog (etc), so in this case it makes it extremely difficult too gain consent. However, sometimes you may be able to leave a comment on the blog where you may inform/ask the author. In other cases you are able to contact the writer so I believe that it is a good idea to at least try to contact them.
    On the other hand, I believe that we are now all aware that when something is posted publicly onto the internet, it is available to everyone and therefore we cannot really be annoyed/surprised if others use our ideas. Maybe it would be a good idea to use what we have found on the internet and put it into our own words if we wish to incorporate it into our own work.
    It is a difficult subject which I do not believe has a straight answer, however when considering whether or not to use data found on the internet there are certain questions we should ask ourselves first before doing so.

  2. you have made some good points I agree with you we do do too much tiptoeing around this subject I believe if you state everything about yourself feely in a blog then people should be able to use it because if you didn’t want every man and his dog to read it then why would you put it out there in the first place you would set your security settings on so only your friends and family can read it. Also the majority of the time the research isn’t going to put your person details into their study they are going to put it as anonymous as the people reading the results don’t really give one who they studied they just want to know if it worked or it if you follow me. Sorry I’m just ranting 🙂

  3. Pingback: Homework for Thandi in week 8 :) | Do you need statistics to understand your data?

  4. Pingback: homework for TA « leprice91

  5. I agree with the ethical issues you present and that researchers need to approach data found on the Internet carefully. How do we know that the information people provide is correct? I my most recent blog titled ‘Faking it’ (found here- discusses the issues of individuals faking their results in Psychological testing but it can also be applied to Internet sources. Individuals may present themselves as being someone else such as the 26 year old man Fouad Mourtada who pretended to be a Morrocan Prince on Facebook and was arrested ( Not only this Zimbardo (1969) found that female students wearing lab coats as apposed to their own clothes and name badges administered twice as strong electric shocks. This is believed to be due to deindividuation when people act differently when they are anonymous. People online are anonymous so may behave differently so the data could lack ecological validity as well. Therefore, data collected online not only could be unethical it could also lack validity.

  6. Hi there, interesting blog post. I agree with most of your points. I feel if someone is going to post something online, on a free website, in some way their work is open to be taken by someone. It’s impossible to control who takes from your work though, they may not copy it word for word, but I often look at other blogs/websites to help myself form opinions. Is that taking someone else’s work? Other times, it’s not easy to get consent if the website is no longer updated by the user. I think we have to be careful in these situations to make sure the author has been informed and to reference any work/images we’ve shared. Also, we should use common sense when it comes to personal and academic blogs; personal content should always be used with permission as no doubt it has a higher emotional value. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s