Is it okay to use internet sources for research?

When I publish this blog, I know it will be available for everyone to examine, evaluate or even just to just have a quick stalk over while facebook is loading. I wouldn’t dare post my deepest darkest secrets online because I know that anybody could stumble across the link and use the information anyway that they like. Publishing something online is the same as making a world wide announcement to everybody with access to the internet.

I do not think that it is ethically wrong to take information from the internet and use it in which ever way you may please. I’m sure many people have ended up reading others’ blogs as a source of information. Do you think this is unethical? Taking information online and using it for your research has the same principal, but in a more formal manner.

Although I do not think it is ethically wrong to use internet sources for your research, I question the reliability and validity of this source. Since the researcher would be getting the information from an unknown source, can they really trust getting their information from here? And is it really worth it?

There are a vast number of variables in most experiments, before even considering the variables that could come into play if the source was from the internet, from an unknown source and without knowing anything about the participant.

In conclusion, although I do not think it is unethical to take information from the internet, I do question how much we can trust the source.


16 responses to “Is it okay to use internet sources for research?

  1. Hello 🙂

    I personally find this topic quite interesting and easy to discuss because there are so many different viewpoints on it!

    I think that the internet can be a very useful source when recruiting participants as well as actually collecting data. It is very efficient in the way that large samples can be achieved via the internet, also it is useful for recruiting specialised samples and individuals with rare characteristics in which you would want to test, the internet is also useful for making studies easy to replicate.

    However there are some problems when using the internet for participant participation as sometimes there is a higher risk of participant drop out and of participants repeating studies in which they have already participated in.

    Gosling et al. (2004) suggested that the modern day internet opportunities provides new research opportunities for psychologists, in particular focusing on internet data collection methods with self-report questionnaires and are then evaluated and compared with traditional paper and pencil methods.

    ‘Six preconceptions about Internet samples and data quality are evaluated by comparing a new large Internet sample (N = 361,703) with a set of 510 published traditional samples. Internet samples are shown to be relatively diverse with respect to gender, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and age. Moreover, Internet findings generalize across presentation formats, are not adversely affected by non-serious or repeat responders, and are consistent with findings from traditional methods. It is concluded that Internet methods can contribute to many areas of psychology.’

    Overall, your blog is good and explains the points for and against using the internet for data collection 🙂

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  3. I like how you’ve chosen to write about this, especially seeing as its relevant to most university students. I personally don’t think it is unethical to use internet sources as research, however i quite agree with you that there are reliability issues with using such sources. One obvious example is Wikipedia, useful and accessible but anyone can write on it. One can only hope that know one has used it as a reference :). One thing i would have liked to seen in this blog was a further expansion on your arguments. You say that you don’t think that it is unethical to use the internet sources, but why? I think if you fully evaluated the points you made, your arguments would carry a bit more weight.
    Otherwise, well done.

  4. I am of the same mind, if you place it on the Internet then you have to accept the fact it is public and anyone has the possibility of reading it, using it or doing anything they like to it. Couple this with the fact it can be very hard to remove something once it has been put on the Internet, especially if it was something interesting/funny/horrifying. I’m sure there have been many people who have found this out the hard way.

    I personally put the responsibility on the user, if you don’t want it read or seen by everyone in the world then don’t post it. However, I think that researchers needs a different stance. I don’t think researchers should be trawling the Internet for useable data. There are some sites, such as forums, which contain a treasure trove of personal accounts of people with disorders, diseases and traumatic experiences. Many of these sites are password protected but access could be gained by using false details. I think using such data would be very unethical without without consent. If they gain consent, I don’t see a problem with this. I’m not sure how I would feel with researchers using data from Facebook without my consent. However, companies are using Facebook data for profit ( so I’m not sure what is worse. At least researchers might find out something useful.

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  6. I agree with you to some extent that if some one chooses to put personal information on the internet, then they shouldn’t have a problem with the information being used for research. After all the internet is a public domain, so if you doesn’t mind other people reading your information, why would you mind them using it for research?
    However i disagree that it is ethical to use this information without consent. Simply because not everyone may realise that their information is completely public. Our generation has grown up with technology and computers, and as a result are pretty internet savvy. However, we have to realise that not everyone fully understands the internet and how it works. So could easily enter information on a website or chat room under the impression that it would be kept private to the users of that chat room or website.
    To combat this problem I think researchers should always gain consent from the individual that the information belongs to. If consent is gained then i agree that it is ethical to use the information.

    • Although I agree that many people may not know that their information is public to everyone once they publish it, it is their responsibility to read the terms and conditions and to know exactly what they are doing online. Most communities online will make sure that you tick to agree the terms and conditions, which will explain what you have signed up for. If somebody does not understand what exactly they are doing online, then they shouldn’t be making information available that they are unsure about the public viewing.

  7. An interesting topic, which will probably be argued quite a lot amongst researchers in the future, as more and more things happens over internet. And i agree with you about to what extend getting data from different sites is valid, i often look at debates on the internet, and some people tend to use a harder tone, and possibly also express stronger opinions because they have complete anonymity, rather than saying what they really mean. However if it is ethical i think depends on the kind of data, the internet is a public space, and if you put anything on it chances are that someone else will see it, and personally think the lack of consent from an individual might be the biggest issue. For example, if i wrote a blog and a researcher took my thoughts and used as data, i would like to at least know that he has done, and possibly his interpretation, as the internet is a written forum, and there you cannot always interpret the tone as the “author” wished to express it.

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  9. I find this topic interesting similar to my latest blog I believe if people are putting their information on the internet on a public domain I feel they are given consent for others to be able to read and use the information for their research. I do understand why some people disagree as people may be using these sites for support or advice etc. Which they believe people in similar situations will be the only people reading it.

    Watching Jeremy Kyle now as given me a thought would it be unethical to use data from a chat show for example how your upbringing affect your adulthood as there is always parents and children arguing on them. Is this similar to putting your problems online except your on tele?

    I’m sure we will be arguing this point for years to come especially with the internet becoming more powerful.

    Happy blogging 🙂

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  11. really enjoyed your blog, i think the topic is of great importance within modern psychology and for research as a whole with the ever growing influence the internet is proving to have. in terms of my point of view i completely agree, the internet can be a great source if it is used in the right way. for example, when we use google scholar for our background research for assignments i believe that is totally fine because we know the majority of times we can trust the publisher. However, there is times when it can be dangerous, (Taflinger, 1996) stated that one of the most crucial questions to ask when reading a paper is who carried out the experiment. For example, the NHS could carry out an experiment that finds milk to be very unhealthy and make a statement that tells us to stop drinking to much milk. however on the otherside of things the british dairy council might say milk is good for us. Obviously both these findings may be true and accurate but at the same time both these companies are likely to say these things and therefore there may be a high level of bias in these findings.

  12. I agree with you that information that is put on the internet is there for everyone to see and should be acknowledged by the publisher that what they are putting is not confidential and in most cases, such as blogs, I see no problem with using these sources. However, when it comes to things like chat rooms I feel that there can be problems with using this information as, though it is on the internet for everyone to see, the people posting probably assume that it is only people in a similar situation to them that will be reading their posts. For example, on chat rooms for bulimia/anorexia, people may feel comfortable sharing fairly intimate accounts of their experiences with people in the same position, but would not be comfortable with their experiences being used in articles without their consent. If a topic is a sensitive as this example I think that people should be asked if they are comfortable with their information being used, even if the information will be kept confidential. These chat rooms are set up for people who feel they have few people to talk to about certain things and they should not be discouraged from using these chat rooms for fear of their information being used for something that they had not anticipated. Overall i agree that the internet can be used as a resource but I feel that we should be cautious of what information we use without gaining consent from those publishing it.

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  14. psychblogld

    I agree with your arguments that people publishing their information online are giving it out freely and that once they have ticked the ‘terms and conditions’ box they should understand the consequences and that reliability of data from online sources should be questioned. However the internet can be a completely anonymous community, with many individuals altering and even faking their identity and information. It is very easy for people to pretend to be anybody they wish in a consequence free environment. With this in mind, it is unlawful and unethical to give out other persons information without their consent, yet in an anonymous community information can be easily stolen or misused and then republished/recycled, often without anybody knowing any differently.

    This problem with questionable identities combined with the fact that the internet is a public forum and anyone can put forward their opinions, ideas, and beliefs can generate unreliable sources of information. Almost all students use the internet as an extremely valuable source of information and judging the reliability of its source is a new skill in itself. I believe that there is lots of reliable, useful, informative data on the internet once you know what you’re looking for. There are many sites with guidelines and pointers on what sites are reliable, here is just one example:

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