AoIR2016: Ethics

We began with an introduction from Charles Ess, setting out some of the goals of the ethics panels, including:

  1. To foreground new ethical challenges with new insights, suggestions, methodological approaches, and work to help resolve these challenges.
  2. To foster community discussion in contributing to the AoIR ethics guidelines.

This is part of an attempt to think about ethics as an ongoing process of reflection, not as a once-off at the beginning of the project. This means thinking about dissemination, also.

Charles noted a shift in how we’re framing ethics: virtue ethics and care ethics are being given much more attention. He ended with a reminder that while we want to be at the cutting edge, but we must make ethical connections with the past rather than getting stuck in presentism.

calvinandhobbesphilosophyYlva Hård af Segerstad and Dick Kasperowski work looks at the difference between ‘found data’ and ‘made data’ (for example, data created through surveys). There are problems with gathering data from APIs, beyond the technical challenges. It’s tempting to gather as much data as possible, but of course this creates ethical dilemmas. The principle of data minimisation suggests we should only collect data required to answer the research question. Complete anonymisation of found data is often impossible, but there are ways to minimise identifying data. What does informed consent and anonymity mean when it comes to gathering found data? How do we minimise potential harm?

Amanda Lagerkvist presented on ‘The ethics of quantified loss’, sharing work in progress on groups of parents who memorialise their dead children online. Deep felt attachments to the technology used for memorialisation are often ambivalent. Parents speaking about their online memorials felt like a sudden disappearance of the platform used would be like a second death of their child. What is the ethos of online condolences, the ethics of liking or choosing not to like expressions of utter vulnerability and grief? Centring on mourners calls for an ethics of ambiguity: both the sense of a shared vulnerability, and of the strangeness of mourning online on commercial platforms.

Mirko Tobias Schäfer and Gerwin van Schie’s work focuses on ‘Entrepreneurial research: risks, opportunities, ethics’. There’s already a discourse on academic entrepreneurship, but this is mostly focused on the STEM fields. There’s often a lack of attention to digital humanities, and the ethics of the push to find new ways to fund research. We need to ask questions about our critical perspective, dependency, complicity, and risks, when exploring these new funding sources.

Elisabetta Locatelli discussed social media and the erasing of boundaries between academic/critical ad corporate research. This work reflects on research with OssCom between 2010 and 2016, which was financed by a digital communication agency. There are ethical challenges: what does it mean as a researcher to tell brands how to sell products more effectively?

Finally, I spoke a little on the challenges of managing alliances with multiple activist communities.

I really enjoyed the response to the panel and the discussion which followed – plenty to think about later!

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