Friending Participants: Managing the Researcher–Participant Relationship on Social Network Sites
Research into youth engagement with social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook highlights a complex set of ethical dimensions, which do not always translate easily from similar concerns in traditional offline research. On social network sites, it is clear that many young people are managing their online presences in strategic ways, often involving conventions around determining access to these spaces. If these sites are framed by their young users as at least 'partially private', how should the researcher seek access to these spaces and how should the researcher operate in these spaces if access is permitted? This article reflects on qualitative research undertaken by the author from 2007 to 2010, which involved 'friending' participants on MySpace and Facebook. Based on this reflection, and contextualized by an engagement with literature concerning both Internet research and youth research, this article argues that social network sites blur the public/private dichotomy. Thus, research engaging with participants on these sites requires ongoing ethical reflection around assumptions about public and private information, and researchers, institutional ethics committees and review boards must develop and make use of suitably informed expertise to both conduct and review future scholarship in this area.
Sociology and Social Studies of Science and Technology