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Applied Linguistics Review

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Identifying informational norms in Mumsnet Talk: A reflexive-linguistic approach to internet research ethics

Jai Mackenzie
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  • University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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Published Online: 2016-11-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2016-1042


In recent years, researchers working within the discipline of applied linguistics and beyond have discovered stimulating opportunities to study human interaction, rituals and behaviours online. But with these opportunities come concerns for the human subjects ‘behind’ online data, most notably, their rights to privacy and freedom from harm. Applied linguists working with data from the internet therefore have a responsibility to continually scrutinise and re-evaluate the ethics of their research methods in line with fast-moving technological developments. In the past decade, an increasing number of scholars have advocated a case-based, context-sensitive approach to the issue of privacy, ethics and internet research. But the mechanisms for applying such an approach are often not made explicit, leaving researchers unsure how to proceed ethically in increasingly complex and shifting research contexts. Using a study of the Mumsnet Talk forum as a case, I show how my self-reflexive and linguistic approach, which draws on established traditions in qualitative research, has helped me to understand what many users of this forum see as normal information flows within this setting. I suggest that such a reflexive-linguistic approach is of value to internet researchers working within the applied linguistic discipline and beyond, who wish to make sensitive, informed ethical judgements that minimise the risk of harm to their participants.

Keywords: internet research ethics; informational norms; context; reflexivity; Mumsnet


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About the article

Jai Mackenzie

Jai Mackenzie is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics at The University of Birmingham. Her research interests include gender, language and sexuality, digital interaction, online privacy and discourse analysis. She is currently using qualitative methods to explore the discursive construction of motherhood through digital interaction on the Mumsnet talk forum.

Published Online: 2016-11-17

Published in Print: 2017-05-24

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, Volume 8, Issue 2-3, Pages 293–314, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2016-1042.

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