Concerns to consider in reviewing web studies

Internet research expert offers advice

Internet technology and its impact on society have evolved so quickly in recent years that researchers and IRBs lag far behind in their efforts to understand and use this new forum.

IRBs need to understand the different kinds of Internet research they're likely to see in protocols, as well as how this type of research might change the informed consent process, says Elizabeth Buchanan, PhD, director of the center for information policy research in the school of information studies at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI.

Buchanan suggests IRBs consider these questions and concerns:

  • What are the practical challenges in obtaining informed consent with regard to fluidity and changes in group membership?
  • How do you verify understanding of informed consent?
  • Will something placed on a public Internet space come back to haunt the researcher or participants?
  • Should researchers be permitted to use archived quotes that were never intended to be represented in research?
  • Should an informed consent use blanket statements, such as "I understand that online communications may be at greater risk for hacking, intrusions, and other violations. Despite these possibilities, I consent to participate?"
  • How might researchers use blogs, which might not meet the definition of human subjects research?