Ethical issues in undertaking internet research of user-generated content: A review of the literature

Maria Herron, marlene sinclair, W George Kernohan, Janine Stockdale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The internet enables innovative and cost-effective research with an increasingly global population. There are numerous approaches to internet research including virtual ethnography, thematic analysis, discursive analysis and network analysis using data collection techniques such as observation, interviews, surveys and experiments. The point of contact for the researcher includes e-mail, discussion boards, chatrooms, multi-user domains, social virtual worlds, blogs, video sharing sites and social networks. Although some guidance is available, there is no consensus or standardised approach to internet research ethics. While this situation enables freedom to consider a variety of approaches, it can be difficult for researchers (as well as research ethics committees) to ascertain minimum standards and good practice. Aim: To identify key ethical issues in relation to undertaking web-based research of user-generated content. Methods: A structured literature search was undertaken using seven databases; Psyclnfo, Cochrane Library, Computer and Information Systems Database, CINAHL, Web of Science, Social Services Abstracts, ERIC, IEEExplore and OVID SP Collection. References and citations were also trawled to identify relevant papers, books and web based sources. Results. A total of 438 papers were retrieved of which 22 were deemed relevant based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Thematic content analysis revealed three over-arching themes related to internet research ethics: person-, researcher- and systems-orientated. Conclusion: Online researchers should consider the ethical issues pertaining to themselves as researchers, the perception of individuals and the unique features of the network environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-15
Number of pages7
JournalEvidence Based Midwifery
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethics
  • Evidence-based midwifery
  • Guidelines for internet research
  • Internet research
  • Online ethics
  • User-generated content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Maternity and Midwifery
  • Fundamentals and skills


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