April 5, 2007

Lit Review: Using Empirical Research Data to Reason about Internet Research Ethics

• The Internet blurs notions of public vs. private, published vs. unpublished, and identified vs. anonymous individuals.

Reasonable Expectations of Privacy
• How do we know when individuals expect privacy on the internet?
• If membership is unrestricted, some researchers declare it a public space. Others argue that the ephemeral nature of online conversations creates the expectation that they will not be recorded.
• The disinhibiting nature of online environments creates a false illusion of privacy.

A Need For Empirical Work
• Knowing what people do does not inform us on what they should do; we need to know how subjects feel.
• How much do users object when they know they are being studied in a public online environment?
• Empirical study of chatroom responses to 4 conditions of declaring research intent conducted- 4 times more likely to be kicked out of the chatroom if the researchers said anything about recording.
• The requirement of informed consent can be waived if there is little risk to the subjects, there is no other way to conduct the research, and subjects will be debriefed following their participation in the study.

• Only one individual expressed interest in learning more about the study.
• Reasons to believe in privacy online: ephemerality of text, invisibility of audience, feelings of anonymity.
• It could be argued that violating a person's right to consent to a study constitutes harm, even if they remain unaware.
• Must convince an IRB to issue a formal waiver of consent.
• Individuals filling out surveys on the computer reveal much more than they would on paper surveys (Greist et al, 1973; Weisband & Kiesler, 1996).
• Power hierarchies in f2f environments disappear in online discussions (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991)
• Shy students have no problem interacting online (Bruce et al, 1993; Hudson & Bruckman, 2002, 2004a)
• Polite people get into flame wars online (Dery, 1993)
• Novice bloggers are not concerned about privacy (Nardi et al, 2004) despite problems of unintended audiences (Hart, 2005)

Beyond the US

• Notions of privacy are culture-specific- online research risks involving populations from other cultures.
• Like countries, online communities develop their own cultural norms.

While this study makes a good case for the potentially negative reprecussions of asking consent of participants in online environments, I personally have had the opposite response. I've found that the anonymity of the Internet has a positive effect on participant response and willingness to engage with the subject matter.

Chatroom environments have a more intimate and ephemeral nature, as opposed to message-board style online social networks such as Tribe. Especially pertaining to intimate matters (see my work on LiveJournal and OpenDiary eating disorder communities), seeking connection and empathic understanding should take precedence.

Literature to Look Into:
• Bassett, E. H., & O'Riordan, K. (2002). Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model. Ethics and Information Technology, 4(3).
• Boehlefeld, S. P. (1996). Doing the Right Thing: Ethical Cyberspace Research. The Information Society, 12(2), 141 - 152.
• Bruckman, A. (2002). Studying the Amateur Artist: A Perspective on Disguising Data Collected in Human Subjects Research on the Internet. Ethics and Information Technology, 4(3), 217- 231.
• Danet, B.
• Ess, C. (2002). Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee
• Eysenbach, G., & Till, J. E. (2001, 10 November). Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research on Internet Communities. BMJ, 323, 1103-1105.
• Herring, S. (1996a). Linguistic and Critical Analysis of Computer-Mediated Communication: Some Ethical and Scholarly Considerations. The Information Society, 12(2), 153 - 168.
• Herring, S. C. (Ed.). (1996b). Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives.
• Joinson, A. N.
• Keller, H. E., & Lee, S. (2003). Ethical Issues Surrounding Human Participants Research Using the Internet. Ethics and Behavior, 13(3), 211 - 219.
• Nonnecke, B., & Preece, J. (2000). Lurker Demographics: Counting the Silent. In Preedeedings of the 2000 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) (pp. 73-80).

April 3, 2007

Lit Review: Spatially Bounded Social Networks and Social Capital: The Role of Facebook

A fantastic empirical study using paychological assessment measures...


•discusses responses to Facebook as well as describes it- negative reprecussions the popular focus- schism between perceived and actual audience; privacy issues.
•A 2005 survey found that 90% of undergrads use an online social networking service (Stutzman)
•In spatially bounded sites such as Facebook, identity claims are less easily falsified, allow for accumulation of social capital with regard to acquaintances (though not necessarily deepening relationships) and ability to maintain a large network of social ties.
•Rheingold's work explored communities whose interaction extended from offline to online, as opposed to the Facebook.
•The gaps between connected individuals may actually increase the flow of information- from one group for which the knowledge is mundance, to another for which the information is novel.
•Differentiates between bridging and bonding social capital.

•Study asked three questions: Who is using Facebook? How are students using Facebook? and What is the relationship between Facebook use and social capital?
•Random sample of 800 MSU students were surveyed (survey site: http://www.zommerang.com). 286 responded.
•Four measures:
1. Demographics/descriptives
2. Facebook usage
a. Intensity: integration into daily life, emotional connection, number of friends, time spent on site
b. Types of Use: information seeking vs. entertainment, maintaining old contacts vs. seeking new ones
c. Perceived Critical Mass: whether respondents perceived their contacts as also using Facebook.
3. psychological assessment
a. Satisfaction with life at MSU
b. Self-esteem
4. social capital measures
a. Bridging Social Capital: outward looking, broad range of contact, perception of oneself as part of a larger group,
reciprocity with a broader community
b. Bonding Social Capital
c. High School Social Capital

• 94% use Facebook, no difference in demographics.
• Members report significantly higher high school social capital.
• More likely to use for killing time than gathering information.
• 10-30 minutes/day, 150-200 friends.
• Much more likely to interact with preexisting connections than meet new people.
• Assume their friends are using Facebook and will continue to do so.
• Results demonstrated the large role Facebook plays in developing and maintaining bridging social capital at their school.
• Those reporting low satisfaction and self-esteem appear to gain the most social capital from intense Facebook use.
• Using Facebook to meet new people was negatively associated with social capital.
• Implication that Facebook may crystallize relationships that would otherwise remain latent, such as classmates.


Repeat studies over time would help to establish causality- this study only proves correlation. Also, the researchers suggest pairing survey methods with actual measures of use (assessing Facebook profiles themselves)- a possibility for my own research. Another possibility is looking at how alumni use Facebook to maintain old college ties.

There is a notable trend in the use of online communities to strengthen and maintain existing relationships, as opposed to the older research on online communities (which focused on the formation of new ties). This suggests a movement toward integration of the offline and online worlds. In this way, internet communities may be seen as extensions of offline communities, offering a plethora of tools to strengthen weak bonds and maintain strong ones.


References to check out:
-Hampton & Wellman - online social networking enhances place-based communities
-Gross & Acquisti - Facebook 2005
-Stutzman - Facebook 2006
-Hamatake et al; - Facebook 2005

Full Circle? From the Lumiere Brothers to YouTube

In what are considered the first anthropological films, the Lumiere brothers captured the daily lives of ordinary individuals in society. In light of the novelty of the technology at this time, however, these films were later criticized as spectacles of self-conscious humanity. The field of anthropology began to lean ever more toward lexical ethnographic data collection and presentation, as the genre of filmmaking diverged toward the technical and imaginative processes of the filmmakers themselves. Today, both the technologies involved in making visual ethnographies as well as the publication of such documentation are readily available to anyone in possession of a camera and a computer. Such a trend begs one to examine the following: In what ways are anthropology and film converging in this era of interactive technologies?

Little more than two years old, YouTube (whose motto is “Broadcast Yourself”.) has fast become one of the most popular sites on the web. Users can create accounts in order to share videos with friends, comment on the videos of others, save favorite clips, and create playlists. Unlike television, YouTube is a fully interactive medium. The service is free of charge, allowing anyone to view videos generated from around the world and engage in discourse with other viewers. The Internet is truly a point of liminality, that space in between ephemeral experience and the social structure- that which is without structure itself but works to create it.

Anthropology as a discipline is dependent upon claims to expertise. However, there has been “an increasing recognition that ethnographic understanding involves a process, and that it is mediated through subjective exchange (Grimshaw 170).” One could find no better way of describing the YouTube community in anthropological terms. What film lacks in depth of lexical discussion, YouTube makes up for in the sheer quantity and variety of subjective understandings available. Its tendency to depict life informally recalls the fundamental nature of ethnography itself, though it is not without a fair share of self-consciousness.

A central tenet of applied anthropology in particular is depicting the issues faced by subordinate peoples. Anna Grimshaw discusses one of the major flaws of anthropology- its specialized, inaccessible nature does little to promote public visibility of issues such as human rights, oppression, and war. The work of Llewelyn-Davies in televising her documentary fieldwork with the Maasai women, informal in nature, seems a proper precedent for the emergence of ethnographic video on the Internet. Drawing on feminist practices of giving voice to the oppressed, the Internet has become a virtual arena for the politically concerned. A quick search of YouTube with the term “Baghdad” yielded 2,490 video clips. Television and Internet mediums share the power of evoking embodied viewing by the audience, who are able to engage with the subjects from the comfort of their own homes.

In light of the current postmodern trend in anthropological thought, a discussion of the reflexive and discursive nature of YouTube is also warranted. These elements are exemplified in a short clip by a Michigan State University student, who asked the question “why do you tube?” His question generated 364 video responses from members of the YouTube community, many of whom described the allure of acquiring insight into the lives of people different from their own, a shining example of globalization in practice. It is this element, as well as YouTube’s capacity to evoke public engagement with ethnographic film, that I seek to explore further in an extended work.