Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan: Internet Research Ethics through the Lens of History

This episode of More than Meets the IRB takes us back to the early days of the internet, internet research, and internet research ethics. The advent of this powerful tool presented a new kind of challenge for IRBs, who must figure out whether and how the existing bioethics research principles apply in online spaces.

Elizabeth Buchanan, PhD, currently serves as the acting director for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Dr. Buchanan sorts internet research ethics into three broad phases reflecting technological and cultural shifts, each of which demanded that the field flexibly adapt to new ethical issues and considerations.

  • The first phase marks a period starting from mid 1990s to around the year 2005 when internet research was in its early stages.
  • Between 2005 and 2010 came the proliferation of social media, and its extensive use demanded a readjustment and reevaluation of internet research.
  • Beginning around 2010, internet research ethics has come to focus substantially on big data analytics, a cross-disciplinary tool as powerful as it is fraught with ethical problems.

Dr. Buchanan then explores the problem of privacy. Are there new ethical issues? Or are they still largely the same? Are we asking the right questions? How does privacy considered in the non-internet realm translate conceptually to digital spaces?

In closing, Dr. Buchanan advocates for bold inter-disciplinary work to take advantage of the changing landscapes around internet research.

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