Ethics and Research Ethics ProcessThe basic tenets of ethical research include the “fundamental rights of human dignity, autonomy, protection, safety, maximization of benefits and minimization of harms, or, in the most recent accepted phrasing, respect for persons, justice, and beneficence” (Markham & Buchanan, 2012, p. 4). The Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS 2) on the Ethical Conduct for Research with Humans (Research Council of Canada, 2014) and the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) recommendations (Markham & Buchanan, 2012), will ensure awareness and compliance with of current recommended ethical guidelines. Ethical decisions are based on “norms, values, principles and usual practices” (Markham & Buchanan, 2012, p. 4). Privacy and confidentiality of web-based information such as social media accounts, course syllabi, and university specific data available on the internet is considered non-intrusive and observational, since there is no direct interaction with the researched individuals, and does not require research ethics board (REB) approval (Research Council of Canada, 2014). These digital artefacts can reveal the participant’s openly available OEPr and MDL as revealed in their internet related “documents, records, performances, online archival materials or published third party interviews” (Research Council of Canada, 2014, p. 16). This initial examination can be conducted prior to REB approval. Data from these sources can be collected and analyzed, and can inform the semi-structured interviews that follow REB approval. While examining participants’ web-based information, there may be content that reveals an individual’s identity, or specific text from blog posts that may be relevant but searchable. While this type of data can be crystallized into other genres to anonymize the data e.g. creating a word cloud from a participant’s blog post, I will err on the side of caution, and only use this information once REB approval has been acquired (Seko & Lewis, 2017).
As I shift into subsequent data collection and apply interactive online research methods, I will ensure that participants are treated fairly, equally, and justly (Gupta, 2017). I will verify that procedures for privacy, informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, security of data, and transparency are reviewed and enacted, as I will have direct contact with the research participants during interviews and story-telling reflections. With internet based research, participants will be made aware of cookie policies, terms of service, and privacy statements of the web-based services being used throughout the research.
Prior to beginning to collect participants’ demographic data or interviewing them for their stories of OEPr and MDL, I will ensure transparency and autonomy in my recruitment of participants by clearly describing the research purpose, details, and any perceived risks and benefits (Gupta, 2017). This will not only be provided in text based documentation and an informed consent letter, that applies readability designs (Gupta, 2017), but also in a pre-recorded video message which will allow participants this first opportunity to see me as the researcher. I will pilot the consent form, the semi-structured interview questions, and the video messages within my GO_GN network, prior to using them for this research. While I don’t perceive this will be a primary concern, but in order to manage potential identity fraud (Gupta, 2017), I will use multiple means of contact such as email, direct message in Twitter, instant message in What’s App, and consistently use an identifying secure-code, such as those used by Captcha (http://www.captcha.net/).
To address potential concerns of internet breaches of data, I will maintain an external data storage device, locked in a secure location, for all research data such as video interviews, data analysis, and media creations. I will ensure privacy and anonymity by asking participants for a suggested pseudonym when recording and reporting the results. The anonymity of web-based data (e.g. blog sites, tweets, posts) will be ensured through the use of this pseudonym as an identifier. Since the research summary will be share in an Alt-Diss format such as Scalar, one that is openly available and online location, when screen images or other recognizable information is captured, all identifying details and meta-data will be pixelated or removed prior to being used in the research report. Direct hypertext links to participants’ web-based data will not be included in the research report or the Alt-Diss location.
In summary, “ethical decision-making is best approached through the application of practical judgment attentive to the specific context (what Aristotle identified as phronesis)” (Markham & Buchanan, 2012, p. 4). All potential ethical guidelines for the context of this online and web-based research will be reviewed and enacted, with a consistent schedule throughout the research project and within five years of completing the project when data management and storage will be maintained in secure, private and confidential locations. While the purpose and intention of this research is for opening discourse and research results using an accessible web-based portal, the Alt-Diss format of reporting research results will require continual vigilance to maintain anonymity, privacy, security, and autonomy of participants’ data.