Regulation of Online Social Network Studies

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Science  11 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6116, pp. 144-145
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219025

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Research conducted on social networking sites (SNSs) offers scientists the opportunity to understand human social behavior and to use SNSs for experimental interventions, such as increasing civic participation (1). The number of studies and interventions conducted in SNS environments is growing. Unfortunately, U.S.-based academic researchers and institutional review boards (IRBs) have received no guidance from the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) regarding how to apply human subjects regulations to SNS research (2). Here, we address two ethical and regulatory challenges: (i) whether adolescents who participate in such research through commercial portals, such as Facebook, should be categorized as children for regulatory purposes; and (ii) the extent to which researchers may collect data about SNS participants' Facebook “friends” (FBFs).