Expert knowledge and the ethics of using blogs in social research

I have been thinking about the ethics of using online media in social research. I am still not quite there yet with it all, so perhaps I will write a better post some day soon.

Hookway (2008) describes how only blog writers who gave consent for him to read and use their blogs formed part of his research. In some ways I find suggestions that publicly available information should not be used for research rather elitist and patronising. How is analysing a member of parliament’s blog different to analysing a 20 year old student’s politics blog?

Sure there are concerns about appropriating materials for a purpose different to what their creator intended, but are these unique to online materials? You do not contact an author before you cite a book and I am sure many vignettes about encounters are used in written work and lectures every day with other parties to those encounters never being altered to this. In many contexts anthropologists have to rely on appropriating somebody else’s words and actions for their own purposes, when the understanding of their research subjects as to what these purposes are is nearly always incomplete. After all, if you already know what your conclusions are going to be how important is your research in the first place.

I really am not sure where I sit with all of this. I will leave you with a link to this Facebook discussion about the ethics of using Facebook to do research, and also the concluding line of this study on self-disclosure which I think suggests that all social research that gets beyond what people would like to promote themselves is manipulative,

“Regardless of whether you know the person well or not, chances are that people will mirror the self-disclosure of their conversation partner.” (Dindia, Fitzpatrick et al. 1997)

Hookway, N. (2008). “Entering the blogosphere’: some strategies for using blogs in social research.” Qualitative Research 8(1): 91.

Dindia, K., M. Fitzpatrick, et al. (1997). “Self-Disclosure in Spouse and Stranger Interaction A Social Relations Analysis.” Human Communication Research 23(3): 388-412.


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