Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Anonymity as a Double-Edge Sword: Reflecting on the Implications of Online Qualitative Research in Studying Sensitive Topics

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Anonymity as a Double-Edge Sword: Reflecting on the Implications of Online Qualitative Research in Studying Sensitive Topics

Article excerpt

Given the pervasiveness of Internet usage in Canadian homes (1), more and more researchers have opted to utilize online methods for conducting qualitative research. After initially gaining popularity through marketing research in the 1990's, online qualitative focus groups and interviews have been increasingly utilized in health, social and psychological studies (Williams, Clausen, Robertson, Peacock, & McPherson, 2012). While numerous authors have opted to use online methods in order to "keep pace with advances in communication technology" (Fox, Morris, & Rumsey, 2007, p. 539), there still exists a paucity of research that reflects on the use of online methods as a distinct methodological practice, rather than as a reproduction of traditional techniques using the Internet. In contrast to more traditional offline qualitative research, online research has the potential for participants to share their experiences in an anonymous space. This perceived anonymity has demonstrated benefits and limitations to the data collection process as well as participants' overall experiences with being involved in the research. It is the purpose of this discussion to introduce this double-edged sword that results from participant anonymity within online qualitative research, drawing from examples from my own proposed dissertation research, as well as from examples from current research that have utilized online qualitative methods. It is the hope that other novice online researchers can use the reflections found in this paper as a useful starting point in beginning their own online qualitative inquiries, by considering particularly, the implications of anonymity on the research process.

Background on my Proposed Dissertation Research

In preparing my dissertation proposal, I focused much of my writing on elucidating my decision- making for using online qualitative research. My justification for choosing these methods stemmed from my proposed subject of inquiry: victimization within adolescent friendships. In this study, I hope to understand how victimization manifests within adolescent friendships and how these victimized young people are impacted by and respond to this victimization. While much is known about the processes and potential impacts of the varying forms of victimization on young people's development, there has been little consideration of the ways that specific relational contexts, such as friendships, may impact the experiences of victimization. There is limited recognition within current childhood bullying research of the distinction between victimization within friendships and victimization perpetrated by non-friends. Preliminary research on friendship victimization does indicate that the outcomes of friendship victimization may be similar to victimization from non- friends, however, these reports also indicate that children and youth may perceive that the benefits of the friendship outweigh the consequences of the victimization and may therefore continue in these relationships despite their suffering (Daniels, Quigley, Mernard, & Spence, 2010; Mishna, Wiener, & Pepler, 2008).

While there is a small emerging discourse that recognizes the complexities of children's friendships and the coexistence of both friendship and victimization within a relationship, there is more that requires examination. First, there is still a limited understanding of the impact of victimized children's perceptions of friendships (including quality and satisfaction) on experiences with victimization within friendships. Equally, there is little known about how friendship victimization can impact perceptions of friendship. There have been recommendations within the literature to consider the potentially enduring consequences of victimization within friendships, with a particular emphasis in how friendship victimization may change over time (Crick & Nelson, 2002; Wei & Jonson-Reid, 2011). There is also a dearth of knowledge on how children and youth's social contexts and interactions (i. …

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