Last Blog This Year WOOOOO

25 Mar

Is it ethical to use internet sources as data for Qualitative research?


So this is my last blog ever (hopefully) and I’ve decided to talk about the question of whether it is ethical to use Internet sources as data for qualitative research?

As you already may know qualitative research is basically gathering information about a certain topic, however unlike quantitative research, it does not use numbers as the data. The main types of qualitative data are open-ended questionnaires, interviews and diary entries.

The problem we have with the ethical issue of obtaining your data from an internet source is that it may not be real data and it may have been made up by the internet source creator, this may make the actual data not valid and unreliable because the results are not what you have tested for and the results may not be able to be replicated in a replication study.

However, some people may argue that the data may actually be real and that it is an easier and cheaper way of collecting data, even though there is a risk of it not being real data.

Another important ethical issue is that if a researcher uses data from an internet source they may not have gained the persons permission who’s data it actually is to use that data in their research, so in other words they have not gained the person’s informed consent, this is a big ethical problem because under the bps standards if you do not have informed consent of that person you cannot use their data as a part of your results.

People may argue though that if someone puts something on the internet you are metaphorically signing a consent form because anyone can get a hold of anything that is on the internet, people may argue that if you don’t want people to use your data/ thoughts/ comments then you should not voice them over the internet.

I do agree with people who say that when you post something on the internet you are agreeing to let people use that information, however in a research perspective I think researcher should stick to the codes of practice that are officially set out, as a bid to keep research fair and to protect people’s confidentiality, which I think is very important to the development of research.

Overall, for official research that a person undertakes with a view to it being published I believe that if you are going to take information from an internet source I think you should get consent to use that information from the person who has made the comment.


2 Responses to “Last Blog This Year WOOOOO”

  1. psychmja1 March 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    An interesting blog and I agree that it is often difficult for researchers to know for sure whether the data they are collecting is real or just completely made up. That’s why as psychology students we should be checking that we site credible sources, as we don’t know if something we read on a website is true. As you have pointed out their are issues with the ethics of internet research but have you also considered that qualitative research (like quantitative) has its limits, especially when it comes to collecting data from the internet as much of the data collected from internet sources is qualitative. Qualitative research focuses more on the experience of individuals, their feelings or what they do, why they do what they do etc. Qualitative research often focuses around observations or interviews with participants. However, can we really say what people feel by collecting data offline?

    One study by the “facebook data crunching team” aimed to investigate what sort of things people wrote about on facebook. The FDC team collected 1 million statuses and made them anonymous before analyzing them using a “text analysis application called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count”. They found trends in the way that people act to different statuses. For example, facebook users tend to “like” status updates that include references to sex or “sexual words” but are much less likely to like status updates about death (further results and information at However without being able to ask follow up questions it is difficult for researchers to reliably interpret why people don’t like some statuses but do others. They are merely able to make guesses as to why.

    On the other hand internet research can provide vast amounts of data without the issue of having to find participants willing to come into the research environment which could take up a vast amount of their time when they could complete a questionnaire online or researchers could just sample information already available online.


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