I’ve previously talked about researchers using blogs as data sources in their research. I have argued that since blogs are self-publication, then bloggers should be cited appropriately in research reports.
When data is collected specifically for research purposes, we talk about primary data collection. When data is collected for a different purpose, but then later used for research purposes, we call that secondary use of data. Secondary use of data generally requires approval from research ethics boards to ensure that the data was originally collected in an ethical manner, and that the secondary use of data does not put research participants in any form of harm.
The rules of engagement around blogging stem from whether or not the blog text is seen as a publication that is publicly available. Further, when it is seen as its own genre, then can a blog be used as a publication would or does it become a data source that would require secondary use of data approval? If the blog is a data source that is used by researchers, the data can be seen as having been generated for a different purpose, and as such, the researcher should then be required to seek secondary use of data approval. In most cases, this then requires that the researcher get permission from the data owner (in this case the blogger) for use of the blog data within their research study.
In addition, I’ve seen research that confuses the blogger with a research participant, or in the case of health blogs, as a patient. In the case where the researcher is using public blog data without interaction with the blogger, then the blogger should be considered neither a research participant, nor a patient. The blogger, in this case, is a published author. The blog, is a publication, and should be cited appropriately in research reports.
So, should the use of ‘blogs as data’ for research purposes require secondary use of data approval?