I am editing a special issue of the International Journal of Internet Research Ethics on the practices, methodologies and documented experiences of using online communities as places for field research.

By ‘online communities’ I mean online groups that demonstrate some kind of permanence within the community of practice including – but not limited to – the existence of regulars, emergent hierarchies, community-specific linguistic patterns, in-group/out-group phenomena and so on. These have emerged in online groups as varied as listservs, virtual worlds, social networks (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Flickr), forums, coagulations across the blogosphere, and so on. In other words, they need not be defined as a ‘community’ to demonstrate such features. [Here’s a starting point for debate on the definiton of online community: Wikipedia’s community-generated entry ;)]

For the special issue, I’m particularly interested in case studies, and in how implementing existing theoretical frameworks to the online medium have generated new approaches to thinking about the implications of research on Internet and non-Internet populations. This is a relatively chaotic area in this field, with an abundance of disparate coverage. This special issue aims, like the Association of Internet ResearchersEthics Guide (pdf), to help researchers grapple with the unique challenges of inquiry in this medium.

Submission deadline is 18 April 2010

Here’re more details, including scope and submission guidelines:

The International Journal of Internet Research Ethics (IJIRE) seeks papers from researchers describing best ethical practices in the investigation of online communities. This special issue, edited by Aleks Krotoski, aims to create a compendium of case studies and theoretical frameworks which future scholars will reference when designing their own analyses of populations and practices in social networking sites, weblogs, listservs, online games, video sharing sites, virtual worlds and other Web environments that demonstrate evidence of community processes.

Topics of particular interest include:

  • Vulnerable populations (e.g., youth, medical contexts, extremism)Outcomes of challenges to the online community due to research ethics decisions
  • Research design (e.g., how to factor in experimentation that involves research deception)
  • Methodological practices (e.g., data scraping, behavioural tracking, successful methodological combinations)
  • Working with commercial companies
  • Negotiating the online-offline identity (both research participants/subjects and investigator)
  • Implications of the community content/framework
  • Ecological validity: extrapolating the findings to other communities and non-Internet conclusions
  • International ethics considerations

These are not exclusive topics, and other areas that outline best practices in the ethical analysis of online communities are welcomed.

The special issue seeks to include submissions that introduce extensions to existing theories – including new frameworks for approaching the ethical issues that emerge in online communities and novel applications of existing offline ethics frameworks – and examples of best practice – including case studies of successful ethical solutions, both qualitative and quantitative research approaches, issues associated with international ethics practices, and changes to ethical approaches over the short- and the long-term.

While all forms of scholarship and research are welcome, the special issue will feature theoretically and empirically grounded study in the social or behavioural sciences.

Submission guidelines:

The special issue is edited by Aleks Krotoski. Please contact the editor at akrotoski [at] yahoo [dot] com to discuss your submissions. The editor welcomes contributions from new and established researchers. Submitted manuscripts will be subject to peer review.

Papers of approximately 6,000 words are encouraged. Critical insight and strong ethical and theoretical foundations are expected. International Journal of Research Ethics submission guidelines and referencing styles will be followed.

The guest editor will consider papers received by 18 April 2010. Fewer than 10 papers will be accepted. The special issue will be published in October 2010. Please send papers to akrotoski@yahoo.com, clearly indicating that your submission is for the special issue on ethics in online communities by using the subject heading: ‘Submission: IJIRE Special Issue, Best Ethical Practices in Online Communities’.

You can read more about my interests in online ethics here.