Virtual Worlds, the IRB and a User's Bill of Rights

Jeffrey M. Stanton


Virtual worlds provide a vibrant and exciting new venue for the conduct of social research. New social phenomena have emerged in the context of these worlds as individuals and groups use the worlds’ social communication tools to overcome limitations of time and distance. Yet these worlds also pose some novel ethical problems for social researchers who wish to conduct their work in these contexts. The present paper discusses ethical dimensions of research in virtual worlds in order to uncover some of these novel problems. The paper reports and analyzes a case study in which the author participated in a virtual world research study. The paper discusses a preliminary version of a virtual world subject’s bill of rights that can serve as the basis for further discussion among social researchers. The paper concludes with recommendations for virtual worlds researchers on strategies for working with their institutional review boards (human subjects ethics review) to obtain approval for their research proposals.


social research ethics; virtual worlds; human subjects review; bill of rights; institutional review board; IRB

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