Posted by: Natalie Henry Bennon | April 10, 2014

The debate over public v. private is older than the Internet

The debate over what’s public and what’s private is probably as old as mankind, or at least language. It is certainly older than the Internet. It has been hotly debated at least since the beginning of newspapers as citizens and journalists struggled to discern what information is public, which people are considered public figures, and when is the public good more important than privacy. Many kinds of research are conducted in the interest of the public good. Other kinds are not – Coca-Cola’s research into Coke One, for example. I could argue from either side on pharmaceutical research. Public good or corporate greed? Hmm.

In this week’s readings, the idea of public versus private information looms large, and the Internet has blurred the lines. A written journal or handwritten letters to a friend can easily be considered private – unless written by or sent to a public figure. An online journal, or posts to Facebook or via a small discussion board – I can see how these create ethical dilemmas for researchers. Moreover, sometimes people may be writing in a very public forum but be addressing someone specific, and forget that their words can be seen by hundreds of others, or a researcher.

What are the protocols or standard practices for developing trust in online communities? What are the standard practices for making participants unidentifiable?

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