Original Research

A framework of ethical issues to consider when conducting internet-based research

Liezel Cilliers, Kim Viljoen
SA Journal of Information Management | Vol 23, No 1 | a1215 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajim.v23i1.1215 | © 2021 Liezel Cilliers, Kim Viljoen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 March 2020 | Published: 02 March 2021

About the author(s)

Liezel Cilliers, Department of Information Systems, Faculty of Management and Commerce, University of Fort Hare, East London, South Africa
Kim Viljoen, Department of Information Systems, Faculty of Management and Commerce, University of Fort Hare, East London, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: The Internet has changed the way that academia access information for teaching and research purposes. ‘Internet-based research’ refers to studies where data are collected from the internet, often social media sites. However, there are no definitive ethical guidelines for researchers on how to collect, analyse and use the data collected from internet-based research.

Objective: The objective of the article was to develop a framework that can be used by researchers to consider ethical issues in internet-based research.

Methods: The framework was developed from an in-depth literature review that examined recent research that investigated ethical dilemmas in internet-based research and existing guidelines that are available from universities across the globe to guide research ethics committees on how to evaluate such research.

Results: The framework that was developed consisted of five focus areas: the study population, legal issues, privacy expectations of users, data considerations and data storage. For each of these focus areas, several subareas were identified and discussed in detail to ensure that data were collected in a responsible and ethical manner.

Conclusion: The recommendation from the study is that both researchers and university research ethics committees should use the framework that was developed to guide their ethical decision-making process when collecting data from the Internet.


Keywords

internet-based research; netnography; ethics; privacy; university research ethics committees; data storage.

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