Ethical considerations

1)     What ethical expectations are established by the venue?
YouTube guidelines for visiting the site are being followed. The comments are public and viewers do not need to have signed up to YouTube with a personal account to read any of the comments made.

2)     Who are the subjects’ posters / authors / creators of the material and/or inter/actions under study?
In order to post comments one has to have a YouTube account and existing comments made have been approved by the account holder of the videos.

The names of the posters are mostly pseudonyms, this includes the uploader of the videos, although the programme was initially made by the BBC and has been split in 7 parts. The programme was uploaded in September 2008.

3)     What are the initial ethical expectations/assumptions of the authors/subjects being studied?
You Tube comments are public. Those that are posting comments are aware of this via their initial sign up policy.

More info is available via YouTube support pages

4) What ethically significant risks does the research entail for the subject(s)?
It is unlikely that using examples of any of the comments posted publicly and made available as part of this research would harm the individual who made the original post nor the uploader of the videos.

It is unlikely that comments are made by children. Individuals who explicitly show signs of a mental illness may visit the YouTube site but in view of this concise study it is unlikely there will be any reference nor use of their comments which may make them identifiable.

As the programme is made by the BBC there is a possibility that the BBC will take action to have it barred from viewing due to potential licensing issues.

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Fuzzy boundary Ethics

Act only on the maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law

(from Emmanuel Kant, quoted in Mark Poster,2006′ The Good,the Bad and the Virtual’).

Poster explains that Kant believed that individuals (i.e. the bourgeoisie) could choose autonomously how to act and in which the consequences of their acts would in some significant sense not be determined by institutional authorities. As universalisation progresses, so did the universalisation of the ethical domain.

In this context one could suggest that behaviour on the internet would follow what is ethically acceptable, but in view of the break up of boundaries, a fuzziness appears. Do we stick with local rules, do we extend? Comments and discussion on this blog for instance are governed by local activities (University of Edinburgh, UK, Europe……) and extend into our distance learning global geographies.

How do virtual world contexts (for instance Second Life) and the Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) cope, being far more challenging to enforce ethics associated with real world rules. Cultural activities may be considered along a Nietzschean line of thinking, of an ‘alternative world’, a heaven.

Issues surrounding online identity, anonymity, authenticity, interchangeability, increased sub-cultural activity, and mixing time and space are all factors that affect ethical positions.

It also affects the law which cannot always deal with the ‘virtuality’, as compared to the physical. In that sense, Kant’s quote above, is difficult to live up to if you do not know who the online persona is.




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