Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media: Abstracts [E]

< Back to Published Volumes

< Back to Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

< Back to Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media contents page



Ethics of Citizen Media Research

Sandra Smeltzer, Western University, Ontario, Canada

Citizens who produce, disseminate, and consume their own media, or who disrupt and subvert existing media, challenge traditional mass media structures. This entry focuses on key ethical issues associated with conducting research on both digital and low-tech, dis/embodied citizen media practices (Baker and Blaagaard 2016). It opens with an overview of challenges related to such research, including: gaining access to participants; fluid technological landscapes; shifts in ‘real life’ socio-political environments; the ephemerality of much on- and off-line media; the veracity of media content and authenticity of participants; and the lure of technologically determinist narratives and ‘success stories’.

Throughout the circle of inquiry, researchers must be reflexive and deliberative vis-à-vis participants’ consent, vulnerability and safety (Lüders 2015; Markham and Buchanan 2012; Nissenbaum 2011). These ethical considerations “are heavily contextualised by the researchers’ own positionality” (Gillan and Pickerill 2012:135), power relationships and “various degrees and kinds of difference (e.g. gender, ethnicity, age, class, sexuality, etc.)” (Routledge 2004:86). These concerns are heightened where repressive forces persecute citizens who disseminate media that challenge political, economic and socio-cultural status quos. Researchers must judge the implications of drawing attention to these practitioners, especially those who are marginalized and vulnerable, and recognize they often want anonymity and privacy (notwithstanding the publicness of their media dissemination). Private sector actors may also leverage tools at their disposal to limit the impact of citizen media (Bélair‐Gagnon and Anderson 2015). Similarly, material and immaterial labour issues need to be addressed, as well as the ethics of studying media practices that advance causes and perspectives antithetical to those of the researcher.

This entry concludes with a discussion of the ethics of knowledge production, including problematizing who benefits from the research; balancing support for, and critique of, citizen media; and the ethics of asking citizens to give their time and energy to participate in one’s research (Choudry 2013; Khasnabish 2015; Rodino-Colocino 2015; Smeltzer 2012).


Baker, M. and B. B. Blaagaard (eds) (2016) Citizen Media and Public Spaces: Diverse expressions of citizenship and dissent, London and New York: Routledge.

Bélair‐Gagnon, V. and C. W. Anderson (2015) ‘Citizen Media and Journalism’, in R. Mansell Robin and A. Peng (eds) The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, New York: Wiley.

Gillan, K. and J. Pickerill (2012) ‘The Difficult and Hopeful Ethics of Research on, and with, Social Movements’, Social Movement Studies 11(2): 133-143.

Lüders, M. (2015) ‘Researching Social Media: Confidentiality, anonymity and reconstructing online practices’, in H. Fossheim and H. Ingierd (eds) Internet Research Ethics, Oslo, Norway: Cappelen Damm, 77-97.

Routledge, P. (2004) ‘Relational Ethics of Struggle’, in D. Fuller and R. Kitchin (eds) Radical Theory/Critical Praxis: Making a difference beyond the academy, Kelowna, British Columbia: Praxis (e)Press, 79-91.