GROUP 2016 Ethics Workshop

Ethics and Obligations for Studying Digital Communities
Organizers: Casey Fiesler, Pamela Wisniewski, Jessica Pater, Nazanin Andalibi

Many of the most prominent and unanswered ethical questions within HCI and social computing involve our ethical obligation to the communities that we study. Some of these questions fall under the purview of more traditional human subjects research ethics, but others hinge on when, for example, studies of public data trigger similar obligations. Basic rules to “do no harm” are complicated in digital communities by issues of consent and privacy, and ethics review boards are struggling to keep up even as research communities are similarly struggling to form appropriate norms. The goals of this workshop are to continue seeding conversations about research ethics within the SIGCHI community, to work towards norm setting, and in the meantime, to collectively help community members make good ethical decisions about research into sociotechnical systems and digital communities. [Full Abstract]

For more information about the workshop motivations, format, and outcomes, please see the full abstract. This workshop will be held in Sanibel Island, FL as part of the 2016 ACM Conference on Supporting Group Work, November 13-16.

August 12 Deadline for submissions for participation
September 2 Notification of accepted participants
November 13 Workshop

PARTICIPANTS & PAPERS (attending authors are bolded)

Matthew Bietz (University of California, Irvine): Ethical Concerns for Studying Health Online

Julia Bullard (University of Texas at Austin): Challenges to Effective Anonymization

Elizabeth V. Eikey (Penn State): Consent, Privacy, and Needs: Thinking about Ethical Challenges in my Research

Arup Kumar Ghosh, Karla A. Badillo-Urquiola, Uzair Tariq, Pamela Wisniewski (University of Central Florida): Researching the (Potentially) Sexually Explicit Material of a Minor 

Shion Guha (Marquette University): Everyday Algorithmic Decisions and their Consequences

Oliver Haimson, John C. Tang. (University of California, Irvine & Microsoft Research): Ethical Obligations When Asking Research Participants to View Unpredictable Content

Amanda Lee Hughes (Utah State University): Ethical Challenges of Working with Social Media Data around Crisis Events 

Moon Kim, Jessica Pater, Samantha Lie-Tjaw, Andrew Patridge, Margarita Gonzalez, Sheila Isbell (Georgia Tech Research Institute): Exploring the Ethics of Social Work Services in a Closed System 

Mel Stanfill (University of Central Florida): Teaching the Ethics of Digital Research

Jennifer Terrell (Indiana University): Ethical Considerations in Digital Communities Research: Constructing the Field Site

Kristin Williams (Carnegie Mellon University): Reasoning Outside Normative Requirements: Disability and Technology Design

Casey Fiesler is an Assistant Professor of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on the intersection of social computing and law, and in particular the legal and ethical gray areas of online content creation. She has organized workshops on the topic of research ethics at multiple conferences, including CSCW and ICWSM, and is currently a member of the SIGCHI ethics working group. She holds a law degree from Vanderbilt University and a PhD in Human-Centered Computing from Georgia Tech.

Pamela Wisniewski is an Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests are situated in Human-Computer Interaction and lie at the intersection of social computing and privacy. Her goal is to frame privacy as a means to not only protect end users, but more importantly, to enrich online social interactions that individuals share with others.

Jessica Pater is a research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and a PhD candidate in Human Centered Computing at Georgia Tech. Her research is focuses on how everyday social computing uses impact the health of vulnerable populations, most recently focusing on individuals with non-suicidal self-harm. In this work, she has advocated for expanding conversations of what is ethical for researchers focused on working with this vulnerable population.

Nazanin Andalibi is a PhD candidate at the College of Computing and Informatics at Drexel University. Her research focuses on people’s social media disclosure and social support practices in stigmatized contexts. She argues that it is important for the HCI community to consider researchers’ occupational vulnerability in discussions, trainings, practices, and policies around research ethics.

In order to be considered for participation in the workshop, potential participants should provide a short (1-2 page) statement of interest (emailed to, which will be reviewed by the workshop organizers. These can be structured in one of three ways: (1) an explanation of one’s interest in research ethics (or a specific topic), ideally tied to one’s own work; (2) a discussion of a specific topic in the area, e.g., one of the provocative open questions in the field; or (3) a case study discussion of an actual ethical dilemma faced in one’s work. Though short, submissions should be written as if they are public-facing and will be shared with other participants as well as posted on the workshop website. Submissions should also include a brief biographical sketch that includes current affiliation and research area. For consistency, please use the SIGCHI papers format, though: (1) abstracts and keywords are not necessary; (2) include your biographical sketch as the last section; and (3) references are fine but not expected (e.g., a personal case study may not require them). Statements that are slightly longer are fine, but please do not exceed 4 pages.

All relevant topics related to ethics or obligations in studying digital communities, sociotechnical systems, or other technology-mediated groups are welcomed and encouraged. Examples include but are not limited to: informed consent, sensitive or vulnerable populations, algorithmic harm to users and communities, definitions of public content and data, the role of review boards, legal implications and obligations, reporting obligations, privacy, and relationships to study populations. We invite submissions from researchers from both academia and industry, and would welcome a wide range of disciplinary perspectives.

Submissions should be emailed to by August 12, 2016. Also please feel free to contact the organizers at this email address with any questions.


[Header Image: XKCD’s Map of Online Communities, CC-BY-NC]