6.8 Conclusion

Social research in the digital age raises new ethical issues. But, these issues are not insurmountable. If we, as a community, can develop shared ethical norms and standards that are supported both by researchers and the public, then we can harness the capabilities of the digital age in ways that are responsible and beneficial to society. This chapter represents my attempt to move us in that direction, and I think the key will be for researchers to adopt principles-based thinking, while continuing to follow appropriate rules.

In terms of scope, this chapter has focused on the perspective of an individual researcher seeking generalizable knowledge. As such, it leaves out important questions about improvements to the system of ethical oversight of research; questions about regulation of the collection and use of data by companies; and questions about mass surveillance by governments. These other questions are obviously complex and difficult, but it is my hope that some of the ideas from research ethics will be helpful in these other contexts.