Ethics Regulation in Social Computing Research: Examining the Role of Institutional Review Boards
Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 1– 11 © The Author(s) 2017, DOI: 10.1177/1556264617725200
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The parallel rise of pervasive data collection platforms and computational methods for collecting, analyzing, and drawing inferences from large quantities of user data has advanced social computing research, investigating digital traces to understand mediated behaviors of individuals, groups, and societies. At the same time, methods employed to access these data have raised questions about ethical research practices. This article provides insights into U.S. institutional review boards’ (IRBs) attitudes and practices regulating social computing research. Through descriptive and inferential analysis of survey data from staff at 59 IRBs at research universities, we examine how IRBs evaluate the growing variety of studies using pervasive digital data. Findings unpack the difficulties IRB staff face evaluating increasingly technical research proposals while highlighting the belief in their ability to surmount these difficulties. They also indicate a lack of consensus among IRB staff about what should be reviewed and a willingness to work closely with researchers.