New information technologies are creating virtual spaces that allow youth to network and express themselves with unprecedented freedom and influence. However, these virtual spaces call into question traditional understandings of private and public space and open up new tensions for institutions (e.g. schools and law enforcement) trying to maintain safe spaces. For adolescent health researchers, these virtual spaces provide exciting opportunities to study youth culture, but also challenge the utility of ethical guidelines designed for a non-networked world. At issue are tensions between the realities of ‘natural’ interactions that occur online, often in full public view, and creating ethical research environments. These tensions and issues will be explored within this chapter, through an overview of the Teen- Net project, a discussion of anonymity and confidentiality within social networking technologies and software (including Friendster, Facebook, and Myspace), and a discussion of ethical considerations for researchers engaged in adolescent health research and promotion.
The Teennet Experience
In 1995, Dr. Harvey Skinner, then professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto, established TeenNet with the aim of providing a living laboratory to develop, evaluate and disseminate youth-friendly tools for health promotion using emerging information and communication technologies (ICT) (Norman & Skinner, 2007; Skinner, Maley, Smith, & Morrison, 2001; Skinner et al., 1997). TeenNet’s approach to research is predicated on the idea that engaging young people in all aspects of health promotion planning – from identification of needs, to the design and delivery of programming – produces more authentic, relevant, useful and attractive tools to support positive youth development (Blum, 1998). This process is guided by five principles:
Key Terms in this Chapter
Privacy Paradox: Is a consequence of the competing demand to use information technologies (including social technology and social software) and have an on-line persona, which simultaneously having to guard against potential threats to personal safety and privacy resulting from the misuse of available information.
Prosumers: Are individuals who actively engage in accessing, viewing and creating content on the web. This is an important shift from the passive consumer who simply views content, as is a limitation of other mediums.
EHealth: (electronic health): Can be understood as the host of emerging information technologies related to accessing and/or exchanging health information; be it within formal health systems (transferring patient records within a hospital), or between independent users (exchanging treatment information through an on-line support group).
Social Software: Can be understood as the growing number of applications which run on computers and portable devices, allowing users to access and connect to individuals or networks of people. Examples of these (as discussed in the chapter) include Friendster, Facebook and Myspace, and can be connected to other services such as YouTube
Web 2.0: Can be used to describe the numerous interactive applications which have been developed to provide individuals with greater access and control in web based environments towards greater collaboration and information/resource sharing; these include social networking sites like Facebook, as well as information resources like wikipedia.
Youth Agency: Can be understood as youth actively engaging with systems, institutions, and technologies towards finding space for expression and resilience. Youth are often constructed as passive in debates about the use and abuse of technology, despite their demonstrated desire to participate in its development and evolution.
Social Technology: Can be understood as the physical hardware (cell phones, iPod’s, high speed data servers) on which networking software is supported. In many cases, these are small and highly portable devices which are themselves connected to powerful wireless networks.
Cyber-Bullying: Is a growing phenomena in which youth, but also adults, use information technology to harass others. This can take seemingly endless forms, and often maximize the potential of many applications; including posting hurtful comments about other people on one’s own site, about them on their site, hacking into and altering their personal profile, sending insulting text messages to mobile devices, and even filming embarrassing and/or illegal actions and uploading them onto the web.
Critical Appraisal: Can be understood as the ability to filter and decipher evidence which is presented, and evaluate it for its merits and limitations. Youth accessing information technologies and social technologies may not have developed and refined these skills, and therefore uptake incorrect information and/or may not know how to effectively use correct information.