Online ethnography and vulnerable populations: A pilot test of data collection via a popular Instant Messaging service
McCarthy, Michael J.
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The internet is rapidly becoming a vibrant topic of study, source of data, and tool for qualitative inquiry in social work (Rybas & Gajjala, 2007). Variously termed virtual, cyber, or online ethnography (Beaulieu, 2004; Markham, 2005; Rybas & Gajjala, 2007), internet-based methods of data collection include observations of online communities (e.g., internet chat rooms), analysis of online narratives (e.g., internet web-logs or digital video), interviews via email or instant messaging (IM), and others. While holding great promise for advancing knowledge development and advancing practice, caution has been recommended in using computer-mediated methods to solicit information from vulnerable populations on sensitive topics (Grinyer, 2007). The principle goal of this pilot test was to critically examine the process, benefits, and challenges of collecting potentially sensitive qualitative information from research participants over the Internet.