Monthly Archives: March 2012

Is it ethically OK to use internet sources as data for qualitative studies?


Well it’s the last of the blogs. Over the past few weeks I have read quite a few blogs on this topic of whether it is ok to use the internet as a source of data for qualitative research. These blogs have presented a great insight to the topic and their opinions on what they think and I just wanted to do some more searching and have a chance to express my opinion on the topic.

            The internet has become so widely used in many aspects of life: socially and professionally. Now even research has resorted to the use of the internet such as questionnaires and surveys. The internet allows people to express their opinions (just as we are doing with our blogs) and therefore can be a rich source of data. There are several different ‘communities’ online which allow people to discuss with others without necessarily being recognised. An internet community refers to mailing lists, chat rooms, newsgroup, and also online discussion boards. I think before we consider if it is ethically ok to use the internet for qualitative research we should identify what qualitative research is. Qualitative research aims to listen to voice of participants: their worries and thoughts. Qualitative research produces rich data which is a great benefit of this type of research.

            Internet research is becoming more widely used today. There are three main types of internet research methods. The first method is passive analysis. In this method the researcher does not involve themselves and just studies the patterns of the websites. The second method is active analysis. In this method researchers participate in communications to determine the accuracy of responses. However the researcher does not say they are a researcher. In the third method the researcher identifies themselves as a researcher. This method can be used in the form of a semi structured interview.

But the main question is: is it ethically ok to use internet sources as data for qualitative studies? Well this is a difficult question and there are a great of deal of different opinions on this topic. Some of the main ethical aspects to consider with internet research are informed consent, privacy and confidentiality. These are key ethical issues in any type of research but with internet research it can get a bit complicated. Firstly it is difficult to distinguish between private internet communities and public ones. This is important as if you wanted to observe in a public context you would not need to obtain consent from participants, whereas in a private context consent is required. Like I said it is difficult to distinguish between private and public communities. An internet community is considered private if a subscription or a form of registration is required to enter the community (e.g. chat room or mailing list) and subscribers are not going to expect for their conversations/discussions to be observed. Also the number of users of the community helps to determine if the community is private. However, this can be nearly impossible to determine. So as you can see the question which you first thought was simple isn’t at all.

So when we have decided whether consent is needed or not then how do we get it? Is it as simple as just asking the participants for their permission to use their data or participate? Well let’s think to the example of mailing lists. There are two possibilities how to get consent for mailing lists. You could either send an email to every participant and describe the experiment/observation to them and give them the opportunity to withdraw themselves. However this can be intrusive and is only possible if new members can be identified as a new member. Therefore there needs to be a way of distinguishing between old and new members. Also this method could possibly influence future communication as you have explained what you will be observing so they may react in what they think is a desirable way. Another way to obtain consent for mailing lists is to ask after observing whether the participants wants their posts/data to be used and they can withdraw in this way. This method is less intrusive and the researchers can ensure messages are interpreted correctly as they haven’t identified themselves as such. However, this method can be time consuming but then again so is most qualitative research.

As I mentioned previously, privacy and confidentiality is a must in all research (quantitative and qualitative). This is incredibly important, especially in internet research as people can be traced online. Researchers need to specify (when asking for consent) if they will be using exact quotes from participants as quotes can be searched online and people may possibly be able to identify the participant. This may be one of the hardest rules to keep as there are so many ways to search for things and people could be identified. This principle combines with protection of participants as if a researcher does not keep them completely confidential then they may be identified which may potentially bring harm to the participant.

So as you can tell there are a lot of ethics to consider with any type of research but it can get complicated with internet research. I personally think that it is fine to conduct research on the internet as long as these ethics and precautions are taken seriously. I think people can benefit from this research as by using the internet you can look at a lot more in less time. Also it is called the world wide web for a reason: because the whole world can access it. Therefore more cultures can be observed by using the internet. Also internet research is cheaper because the participants are already using the internet; they are not having to be brought to a lab to be tested which can cost large amounts.

One of the arguments I have heard is that this is research going too far but are these just modified techniques based on existing ones? For example customer surveys used to be done in person but now they are either done online or by email which saves the money of someone stood at a shop entrance for hours and hours waiting for people to participate. Whereas if they are done by email the company can send a mass email to all their registered customers and wait for a reply. This is cheaper and also takes less time. This isn’t a new method it is just a revised method of an older one. A ‘new’, alternative to the survey method is ‘structured observation’. Structured observation refers to observations done by a person filling out a questionnaire which has been approved and validated by experts. It is said that this method may be an appropriate substitute for a survey. This does not mean that old methods will become forgotten and not used just that there are alternatives which work better in certain situations.

After looking up research on this topic I have decided that research on the internet can be beneficial and save time. It can also bring the opportunity for approaching people in other countries and including them in research in this country. I think the internet can be an amazing aid in the world today however there is the danger of becoming reliant on the internet and forgetting where we came from and forgetting the traditional methods of research. After all these methods have brought us some incredible research and some research cannot be conducted online. For qualitative research I feel the internet can be beneficial as participants don’t even have to show their face to the experimenter saving them embarrassment or fear of expressing their true feelings which they may not express in a face to face context. I think this is a topic that everyone has to think about and really consider the advantages and disadvantages before making a clear cut decision.

If anyone is interested on reading up any more information here are some of the websites I used and some that I found interesting:…/NivAhituv&YaelSteimberg… (this is the web address that was associated with a presentation I looked at but I don’t think it takes you directly to the presentation so the next link is the google link and I found this presentation from that page…),or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=6b9d0de2ab56a6ef&biw=1080&bih=467 (google link to powerpoint I used for information on this blog. Titled “[PPT] The impact of the internet of research methods:…”)

homework for my TA (14/03/12)

Standard  (sorry kat I had gone off the page before saving the web link so I had to go back and find it again but I couldn’t put the link to the actual comment but it is the 3rd  comment for this article.)

POPP’s: Good or Bad?


Speaking in public is becoming a more sought after skill in many areas of life; such as in the workplace and in education too. This skill is increasingly being taught in one way or another. You can now access public speaking courses online and find the closest one to your area. In our university (Bangor University) we have POPPs classes where we put these skills into practice. We do a mixture of prepared and impromptu speeches which vary the skills we learn such as preparation and thinking on our feet. POPP’s is a big part of our grade in stats and can really benefit our overall grade if we put the effort into this part of the module. However, I do know that there is a big debate whether we should do POPP’s or not. I am going to try and give both sides of the argument and let you know what I think as I go along.

            Like I briefly mentioned, POPP’s is worth a big part of our stats grade. It is worth 15% of a 30 credit module which means it can have a big impact on our overall grade for psychology. This does suggest how important the skills learnt in this class are. These skills include increased confidence, interpersonal skills and communication. By standing in front of an audience and speaking/performing repeatedly then your self-confidence will increase which can be beneficial in all aspects of life such as work or in personal relationships. Public speaking can help in work and your career right from the start; the interview. The interview is much like giving a speech about yourself and why you are suited for the job and what they would gain by hiring you. For this you need self-confidence which giving speeches regularly can improve. Therefore these aspects are all linked. There isn’t really a chance you can avoid speaking in public all your life. You may be asked to give a speech at a wedding or special occasion. Even when a man proposes there is usually an audience (well traditionally) which they would have to speak in front of. Key communication skills can also be learnt or enhanced through the practice of giving speeches. This is because you get chance to prepare for most speeches, therefore, you have the opportunity and time to think about what you want to say and phrase things better. Also when giving a speech there is usually an opportunity given to the audience to ask questions; this can help you improve how to think on your feet and deal with the unexpected. I personally think POPP’s is a beneficial part of our course and numerous skills can be learnt or perfected. In addition to this, our speeches are not graded. We are not cruelly judged on what we say, we are given advice. I think this really helps because it doesn’t matter if we do a rubbish speech because it isn’t severely marked (we simply get a mark if we do it and give it a go) but we do get pointers on how to improve which helps increase confidence and get the practice which is truly needed.

            However, I do understand that POPP’s and public speaking is some peoples worst nightmares. Some people experience bad anxiety when thinking about giving a speech. These symptoms (for example sweating) can vary in degree. Emory University have indicated that 88% of people have social phobia. Social phobia is a fear of speaking in public. This shows that this fear is not uncommon and many people do get nervous when speaking in public so you are not alone in these feelings. Some people it is as simple as being scared of speaking in front of people or being judged or the fact that eye contact is required. Some people go completely blank no matter how much they prepare and practice their speech. I must admit that when I first gave a speech or gave a reading I was incredibly nervous and it was horrible and I just wanted it to end as quickly as possible. But now I sing regularly in front of an audience and I have given speeches on various occasions and I don’t really have a problem with giving a speech in POPP’s because the atmosphere is laid back and I know that it is all practice and will help me improve my skills. Another argument I have heard is that preparing a speech takes a long time and yes I agree. Writing a good speech can take a lot of time and practice but like I keep on saying the benefits definitely outweigh the costs. Many people fear that they do not have complete control over their speech due to unexpected questions which means they have to think on the spot as you cannot prepare for every possible question. Another argument (which I do not agree with) is that POPP’s is a waste of time. I understand that the people who are already confident in speaking in front of people don’t see the point but I think it is important that they realise that a lot of other people need the practice and experience to overcome their fears.

            There has been a lot of research in this area in how to ‘cure’ people of their social phobia. The Lefkoe method is a common method involving 4 steps. These are:

  1. Identify the causes of the fear of speaking in public
  2. The client is then shown how to unlearn these fears they have already learnt
  3. Then discover how these fears have come about
  4. The final stage involves breaking the connection between these fears and events.

All in all these steps take approximately 3 – 4 hours and then you will be cured from your social phobia. These sessions last approx. 60 minutes and are done over the phone by a certified facilitator. The certified facilitators go through rigorous training ensuring consistent results are reached in consistent time. A change is said to be noticed after each session. However these sessions are quite expensive. $200 is to be paid before each session/appointment so you can spread the cost apart. There are many people who have reported great results with this method so it is questionable whether this money is worth it to overcome a long lasting fear. Go to this link to read more and see patients’ comments: .

            Anderson et al. conducted an experiment involving virtual exposure to reduce anxiety of speaking in public. They conducted 8 therapy sessions; 4 of these sessions were anxiety management and 4 were exposure therapy. In the exposure therapy sessions participants gave speeches to a virtual audience. All participants completed questionnaires about their anxiety before and after treatment. They also completed one 3 months later. Participants were asked to give a speech to a real audience before and after treatment and then completed their anxiety questionnaires. Result showed a reduction in anxiety levels on all self-report measures (pre and post treatment). This reduction was maintained on the follow up measures. (

            There are also various other courses and clubs which can help reduce anxiety such as the toastmasters club. You can search for courses online as well. One website is: It is encouraging that there is so much help out there for people to improve this skill, as I have emphasised throughout this blog, it is a great skill to have and be incredibly useful in many aspects of life. I personally think POPP’s is a good thing and have found that many people benefit from these types of courses. To finish I would like to leave you with a quote from the Ohio State University extension: “Good public speakers are made, not born.”

Here are the other references I have used in this blog if you want to have a look: