What is IRE?
Internet Research Ethics (IRE) is an emerging cross-disciplinary field which studies how research is conducted in online environments and seeks to resolve the subsequent ethical dilemmas in normative and practical terms. While similar to its physical counterpart, conducting scholarly research online is different in terms of ethics and values. For example, online surveys bring new privacy concerns. Research in chat rooms confound our notions of subject anonymity and identifiability. Scraping data from social networks or public blogs complicate issues of informed consent.
The mission of the Internet Research Ethics Digital Library, Research Center, and Commons is to push the boundaries of traditional research ethics issues, allowing transformative models for managing Internet research. It will provide sound resources, a solidified research base, and expert advice as more researchers and more IRBs/ethics boards struggle with the complexities of Internet research ethics.
The project's mission is to have influence on researchers from all disciplines and on the foundations of their research ethics systems and information ethics in general, and on the nature of research itself in an ever-connected, online environment. Specifically, the project will have a broad impact on:
- applied ethics, which cross disciplinary boundaries;
- the real-world practices of Internet researchers from a variety of disciplines;
- the practices and policies of IRBs seeking to ensure human subjects protections in novel environments and contexts;
- the quality – both in terms of information learned and ethical norms of human subjects protections maintained – of the exponentially expanding fields of Internet research.
The Internet Research Ethics Digital Library, Resource Center, and Commons is an ongoing National Science Foundation-supported project. Over the next year, IRE will:
- pull together the disciplinarily disparate literature on Internet Research Ethics into one searchable and annotated digital library
- develop and highlight various resources to help faculty and students across a range of disciplines conduct ethical research in online environments
- create a social commons where researchers, teachers, and students can come together to discuss the myriad and evolving challenges presented by Internet research
Additionally, IRE will establish a study group to address pressing issues and provide guidance for Institutional Review Boards and other university groups and faculty. For more in the Study Group, click here.