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I could not agree more with you, Reg. Moreover, even if good probability samples are getting harder to obtain or are not achievable in social media or mobile research, it does not imply that we (researchers) should give up on trying to get the best sample possible for a study. For example, probability samples have never been possible for mall intercepts. This didn't mean that you would interview the first 100 patrons coming through the door on Monday morning with no sampling strategy. It's always been important to understand the limitations of one's sample and to try to unveil the effect those might have on the results; much more important than reporting a margin of sampling error. This fundamental research principle has not changed even if the emergence of new technologies offers different ways of collecting data.
Toggle Commented Nov 17, 2011 on There you go again! at The Survey Geek
Thanks, Ray. This is such an important debate to have. I’m not sure that I see a need for a split between the ethics of social research and the ethics of (the new) market research. The four principles you list here apply to both, in my opinion. Much of the difficulty we – marketing researchers – face in applying our standards or rules of conduct to any new reality is that we fail to extract the overarching ethical principles behind them. I don’t agree that anonymity is a traditional market research ethical principle. There’s nothing inherently ethical about anonymity, but there is something ethical about honestly representing how the information people are volunteering is going to be used. This honesty principle (or transparency) applies as much to personal information that may allow to identify the individual as it does to volunteered opinions and observed behaviours. In many cases too, hiding the identity of the participants to end-clients will increase respondent’s candidness, although not always. I don’t have much difficulty with the questions MRS suggests a researcher should pose when asked to collect information about individuals who have profiles on a social media service (page 8). I agree too that virtual life is real life. However, it is real ‘public’ life rather than real ‘private’ life. When people express their views in an open forum online, they usually don’t have a problem being candid. When they are expressing their views about a product or service, they likely know, even expect, that the product/service provider is paying attention. Consequently, the requirement to obtain ‘informed consent of all persons from or about whom data is collected’ seems rather over the top not to mention unrealistic. Grant you, there are degrees of ‘publicness’ even in social media which must be respected by those having access to the data/information. If I’m writing something to friends in a secret or closed group on Facebook, I expect it to remain within that group and not to be used to sell me something, no matter how ‘better-tailored-to-my-inner-self’ this something might be. What I think researchers owe to the people participating in any given online forum is to make sure they know that the information may be used for research purposes. Is this really so limiting? The research we do involves people, real people, and that’s a responsibility we should not take lightly. The main ethical research principle I learned at university was: Don’t do to participants what you would not want someone to do to your grand-mother (replace with child, baby sister or brother, any person you feel is vulnerable and to whom you wish no harm). If it makes me OldMR to abide by it, so be it. At least I can live with myself.
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Aug 5, 2011