Nonexceptionalism, Research Risks, and Social Media image

American Journal of Bioethics, 17(5):W1-W3, 2017 (Published online April 21, 2017)
Luke Gelinas (Research Ethics Fellow), Robin Pierce, Sabune Winkler, Glenn Cohen (Faculty Dir), Holly Fernandez Lynch (Executive Dir) & Barbara Bierer


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We are grateful for the thoughtful commentaries on our target article “Using Social Media as a Research Recruitment Tool: Ethical Issues and Recommendations” (Gelinas et al. 2017), commentaries that in many cases further clarify and expand upon our recommendations. For the most part we find our interlocutors’ suggestions salutary and think that they enrich the discussion around the use of social media to recruit research participants. In this reply, we limit our discussion to three potential points of debate on which further analysis may help to clarify underlying issues: (i) the merits of using a “nonexceptionalist” lens in review of social media recruitment strategies, according to which social media recruitment should be evaluated using the same general ethical principles as offline recruitment; (ii) the distinction between general background risks of social media and the “research risks” of particular recruitment proposals for the purpose of institutional review board (IRB) review; and (iii) the ethical significance of the business rules or “terms of use” of social media platforms.

In our target article, we take an approach to the ethical evaluation of social media recruitment that we term “nonexceptionalism,” which involves considering analogous offline recruitment scenarios and applying traditional research ethics considerations. Eric S. Swirsky takes issue with this approach in his commentary, saying that we “beg the question of whether use of social media should be evaluated differently from other forms of recruitment” and that our “methodology falls short as a stand-alone tool for IRBs or investigators to identify and assess some of the most salient ethical issues facing the use of social media for recruitment” (Swirsky 2017). Swirsky goes on to endorse a “sociotechnical” framework for evaluating social media recruitment, which emphasizes social media as a “socially constituted” medium, arising from the “complex interplay between individuals, technology, and society” and that considers technology as designed and as used to determine what, if any, unanticipated negative consequences result from its use (Swirsky 2017). [...]

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bioethics health law policy holly fernandez lynch human subjects research i. glenn cohen regulation research