Ethical issues in the employment of user-generated content as experimental stimulus: Defining the interests of creators

Research Ethics 10 (4):196-207 (2014)
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Social experimental research commonly employs media to elicit responses from research subjects. This use of media is broadly protected under fair use exemptions to copyright, and creators of content used in experiments are generally not afforded any formal consideration or protections in existing research ethics frameworks. Online social networking sites are an emerging and important setting for social experiments, and in this context the material used to elicit responses is often content produced by other users. This article argues that users may have a reasonable interest in controlling the use of their content in experiments conducted in online social networks. Matters of risk and autonomy in research ethics are explored by analogy to active debates in law over adhesion contracts, moral rights, and the right to be forgotten. The article concludes by considering practical difficulties in identifying and protecting the interests of creators

Author's Profile

Ben Merriman
University of Chicago


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