Informed consent and secondary data : reflections on the use of mothers' blogs in social media research

Von Benzon, Nadia Rosemary (2019) Informed consent and secondary data : reflections on the use of mothers' blogs in social media research. Area, 51 (1). pp. 182-189. ISSN 0004-0894

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This paper seeks to extend debate on the use of blogs as qualitative data, specifically focusing on the issue of consent in research that uses publicly available but personal content. Typically the argument has been made for the need to protect individual writers and engage with these documents in a considered manner that recognises the inherent vulnerability of amateur authors. This paper will argue that a framing of these writers that foregrounds their potential vulnerability, naivety and even ignorance is in fact highly paternalistic, and therefore counter to an ethical approach to research. In seeking to protect authors from harm, we deny their agency and diminish the act of online publication. Further, this approach, prevalent in academia, is at odds with the legal position, and arguably, the weight of social understanding. A reframing of amateur online authors as informed agents not only increases the accessibility of these data to researchers and subsequently policy makers, but also alludes to a need to credit the contribution of authors without the need to seek permission. Ultimately, this paper argues for a presumption of accountability, unless otherwise proven, and an approach to the use of self‐published online material that mirrors the use of other sorts of secondary data with perceived “professional” authors, such as magazine articles, newspaper columns or organisational literature.

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This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: von Benzon N. Informed consent and secondary data: Reflections on the use of mothers’ blogs in social media research. Area. 2018;00:1–8. which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
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?? geography, planning and development ??
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01 Mar 2018 16:14
Last Modified:
16 Dec 2023 01:25