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Article about ethical use of online data noticed by ‘method guru’

Date of news: 21 April 2021

Assistant professor of language & communication Wyke Stommel and Research Master's student Lynn de Rijk wrote an article about the ethics behind the use of online data for research: some researchers discuss ethical considerations in detail, others simply consider these data to be public. The results obtained by Stommel en De Rijk caught the attention of ‘method guru’ Janet Salmons of SAGE.

In the article Ethical Approval: None Asked. How discourse analysts report ethical issues surrounding publicly available online data Wyke Stommel and Lynn de Rijk discuss how ethical aspects of the use of online data for research on language and communication are reported. ‘By online data we mean tweets, posts on forums, Instagram, Facebook, news sites, Reddit, blogs, etcetera’, Stommel explains. ‘I have noticed that some researchers discuss ethical considerations very extensively and take measures to protect the authors, while others simply state "the data are public" and ignore all possible ethical questions. This is particularly striking in our field of research, because we usually show data in our articles on the basis of which we discuss the analysis. A quote can be googled, so you will find its author. Anonymising messages will thus be of little effect.’

Ethical approval: none requested. How Discourse Analysts Report Ethical Issues Around Publicly Available Online Data

Plea

Stommel and De Rijk analysed 132 recent articles from 13 different scientific journals. In two thirds of the articles, ethical aspects and/or considerations were not mentioned. For the articles in which ethical aspects were discussed, they looked at which aspects they were, such as the public/private dichotomy, informed consent, and vulnerable participants. Stommel: ‘In our article, we particularly make a plea for more discussion of ethics in empirical articles themselves, because researchers are inspired by how others have worked. We also think journal editors should pay more attention to this.’

Interview

The article by Stommel and De Rijk caught the attention of Janet Salmons, who is involved with the MethodSpace of publishing house SAGE, an internet environment in which researchers and students can find all kinds of information about conducting research. Salmons: ‘When I discovered this intriguing article, my first thought was: MethodSpace readers should learn about this study!’ Salmons interviewed Stommel and De Rijk about their findings. You can find the interview here.