Discussion Topic: Online Ethics

At the Masterclass and again on the final day of the workshop, we discussed the concepts that were most important to the group as researchers. To keep this discussion going, we would like to use this website as a space to continue sharing these ideas, building upon them and assisting each other where possible.

For the first of these topics, we would like to discuss ethics, particularly online ethics.

Discussions of ethical considerations were a common occurrence throughout the Masterclass and Workshop.

How, as ethical researchers, do we analyse online data?

It is a burgeoning field in research and consequently it is also becoming a more significant issue in ethics. For websites like Facebook, there are obvious connections between a person’s online identity and their offline identity. Comparatively, other websites require only an avatar, but for many avid users, these avatars can have personal significance to the offline identity of the user (Whiteman, 2012).

Dawson (2014) found how easy it is to link data obtained online to its original source, due largely to the use of search engines, demonstrating how difficult it is to keep online sources anonymous. As Dawson goes on to discuss, situations where the researcher is a part of a community and eliciting data makes this particularly problematic.

The method of analysis is also important to consider. Analysing the text rather than the subject entails different ethical considerations. Whiteman (2012) identifies many of the perspectives that can be used to analyse the text and what these mean for how the data should be treated.

Gao and Tao (2016) highlighted many of the other considerations the researcher must undertake while gathering data. As a researcher, there are many questions that must be asked in order to ensure the research conducted is as ethical as possible, for Gao and Tao and online data, this includes, whether or not to obtain informed consent, how to obtain this consent, whether or not to anonymise and how to protect participants (p. 185). As well as these participant-based considerations, researchers must also make sure they consult the terms and conditions of the website from which the data is obtained. Some websites have much tighter restrictions on data use and presentation than others, so a researcher should always be well versed and up-to-date on data collection and use for their chosen platform.

What do you think? What are some other considerations that must be taken into account in order to research ethically in online domains?

If you know of any other articles or books of significance for online ethics, please share them!



Dawson, P. (2014). Our anonymous online research participants are not always anonymous: Is this a problem? British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(3), 428–437.

Gao, X., & Tao, J. (2016). Ethical challenges in conducting text-based online applied linguistics research. In P. I. De Costa (Ed.), Ethics in Applied Linguistics Research (pp. 181–194). New York & London: Routledge.

Whiteman, N. (2012). Undoing ethics: Rethinking practice in online research. New York: Springer.