Ethical Dilemmas of Social Network Research
As readers of this book have learned, network analysis is neither a study of individuals nor a study of groups, organizations, and institutions. It is both. The embeddedness of individuals within larger contexts creates special challenges for research ethics with roots in medical studies of individuals. In network studies, research about an individual has implications for all the persons he or she is connected with. Facebook, which uses network principles and algorithms, can lead a person to contact someone designated a “friend” even though that friend has never heard of the initiator and the friend does not want to share information. Recently, Iranian immigration-control officials checked Facebook for the name of a traveler entering Iran, and recorded the names of all of her friends who were in Iran (Morozov 2009). Network information can expose individuals who did not answer a network questionnaire in a survey and also has implications for any organizations that person is connected with. Likewise, data on particular organizations has implications for the individuals networked to it.
This chapter discusses the standard guide for research ethics, The Belmont Report (National Commission 1979) which is the basis for the Federal Human Subjects Code (Regulations 2010). Though laudable, as we shall see, the principles of the Belmont Report are difficult to adapt to social network research and for that matter to social science research.
The Belmont Report and the ensuing regulations on the protection of human subjects and the creation of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) had their origins in abuses of