Online Hate and Hurt: Ethical considerations when online research takes an ugly turn


  • Jessica Ruth Austin Doctoral Researcher, Department of English, Film, Communication and Media, Anglia Ruskin University, UK,



research ethics, ethics, online research, trolling


When conducting online research, a researcher has an ethical obligation to safeguard the community and community members from any undue risk. In November 2014 David Kalac used an internet message board called 4Chan to upload pictures of a deceased woman who he had apparently strangled. In this case it was the users themselves who took the ethical responsibility to report the crime to the relevant authorities. The above is a clear cut case of possible crime that should have been reported by a researcher if they were studying them at the time, however other cases can be more problematic. In October 2015 a user on Tumblr named Zamii070 was bullied into attempting to commit suicide by members of the Steven Universe online community due to their consensus that her fan artwork was not “acceptable”. In a study on the One Direction fandom, fans were seen threatening to throw acid in other’s faces over a disagreement over Harry Style’s new haircut. This paper will discuss the ethical dilemmas and challenges of researching an online community where there is a potential for harm in the real world and a discussion on how to mitigate these circumstances.


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Austin, J. R. (2017). Online Hate and Hurt: Ethical considerations when online research takes an ugly turn. Nordisk Tidsskrift for Informationsvidenskab Og Kulturformidling, 6(1), 3–16.