Using the internet for research

I personally think that if an individual posts information on the internet on any site, in any forum about anything, then they are signing a consent form saying that anyone in the whole wide world can use the information whatever it may be, for their own purposes, however, some individuals may think that when they post this information on the internet, that some people may respect that the information may be personal and private but some people out there aren’t so considerate and may use it other purposes such as statistics for something or other or in fact, research.

I think that if an individual puts up any information up on the internet, either personal or impersonal, then they are basically signing a consent form to say anyone can do whatever with the information they have produced. The internet can be a useful way in getting real facts and opinions without actually asking real participants or individuals which they can then use in their research. I think that the internet is a great way to collect data because it comes right from the devils mouth and is very much likely to be true. Another way that the internet is useful for research is because it is highly efficient in recruiting participants to partake in the study. It is also useful if the sample you which to recruit has rare characteristics as this would be quick and easy on the internet. Buchanan & Smith (2010) said that the ‘internet is increasingly being used as a medium for psychological research’. Research was taken out on the internet in which 963 responses were obtained. These were then compared to a group of 224 undergraduates who completed a paper and pencil version of the questionnaire. They found that ‘comparison of model fit indices obtained through confirmatory factor analyses indicated that the Internet-mediated version had similar psychometric properties to its conventional equivalent and compared favourably as a measure of self-monitoring’.


Although the internet is useful for collecting data online and recruiting participants, there is a reliability issue in that not all information you see on the internet is true and if a researcher is taking the information and using it for the purpose of research, it may be invalid and also unreliable as it is coming from an unknown source. It’s also a bit tricky as you know nothing about the background or anything about the participant so the variables are endless. Some individuals would argue that they should be informed if their data is to be used in research and that they should be debriefed.


Researchers need to be careful when selecting certain pieces of information from the internet as their results may be unreliable and not valid as the information they selected was from an unknown source. However, I think it using the internet for psychological research can be highly effective and very useful when trying to select a large sample of participants and it is also an easier way to collect data.


About psuc9d

2nd year psychology student at bangor university

6 responses to “Using the internet for research

  1. Hey, I think this a really interesting and highly relevant given the ever growing involvement of computers and the internet in all areas of life. For those of us here who plan on a career in research, this is certainly something they will have to consider. However there’s a couple of points I think that need to be raised. Firstly in the second paragraph you said:

    “I think that if an individual puts up any information up on the internet, either personal or impersonal, then they are basically signing a consent form to say anyone can do whatever with the information”.

    The key problem here is that often information about ourselves isn’t uploaded by us personally. For example pictures on Facebook may be uploaded by a friend, usually without the person’s consent. If a researcher were to use those pictures as data would that be ethical? As you can see this creates a difficult ethical dilemma.

    Secondly the use of computers could raise validity issues as people behave differently online compared with how they would behave during face-to-face interaction. One experiment showed that people are more outspoken and antagonistic and more likely to make risky decisions (Kiesler,2004).

    All in all, really interesting blog.

    Kiesler, 2004 –

  2. I agree with your point that the internet can be an excellent medium for recruiting research participants for testing in certain circumstances but you also say that anything people post on the internet is fair game for use in research; and that they’ve given consent simply by putting in it out there and I don’t agree with that at all. (For the record: I DO NOT give my consent for anything I’ve posted on the internet to be used for research purposes. Researchers, if you want my data, you have to ask my permission first).

    The idea that what their writing could be used for such purposes would probably be very new to a lot of internet users and I feel that using them for research is in some way exploiting their naivete. When a blogger posts they expect others to read and comment on their post; they might expect it to be reblogged or for links to end up on reddit or facebook perhaps. It is for these things that they have given consent to when they press the post button; and not for their words to be fodder for hungry researchers.

    There is also the problem of: if you’re going to carry out research on the internet, where do you draw the line? You could stop at analyzing posts on blogs or public forums; you could stop at trawling the pages of facebook accounts that people have foolishly haven’t made private; you could stop at the point when a private forum for supporting people with mental illnesses (i.e. rich with juicy, only semi-guarded data) asks you to register as a member. Or not. How unethical would it be for a researcher to pretend to have a mental illness and in need on anonymous online support, in order to gain access to such data?

    In my opinion, using the internet to collect data from uninformed, non-consenting people is unethical in the extreme and should not be used.

    “The internet can be a useful way in getting real facts and opinions without actually asking real participants or individuals which they can then use in their research.”

    A caveat for internet researchers: people on the internet are still real people (though their data might not be!).

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  4. fidelidogho

    Using the internet for research is a very great development in human development in terms of statistical knowledge and varied dissemination of informations,
    Using the internet for statistical research may be misinformative in terms of consent issue as you propose or reliability issues of sources,but we a now leaving in the technological age when internet statistical surveys are used in the print,and tele media.

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  6. I agree with your final conclusion – the internet’s great advantage is its ability to reach many potential participants. Laurent & Vogel (1996) compares internet questionnaires to postal questionnaires which were perviously used by American Research Uni’s to gather data. They say surveys and informal opinion gathering in this way is a great advantage. The only down side to this study is the fact that the internet hardly existed in the way we have it now and is far more accessible to everyone who may not reflect the professional people who worked with the internet in 1996.

    Public forums don’t always reflect target populations or are a good sample. You only have to look at Yahoo questions to see some of the people allowed to go online :/ On the other hand Gordon, Slade & Schmitt (1987) noted back when the internet was less advanced than a Furby; it was becoming heteronomous and representative of a larger sample. Clearly all these old studies support research from the internet – however it does not mean it can be used in the same way nowadays…

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