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Stern, S. R. (2003). Encountering Distressing Information in Online Research: A Consideration of Legal and Ethical Responsibilities. New Media & Society, 5(2), 249–266. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1461444803005002006


This article explores the reasons why internet researchers should contemplate their responsibility for encountering distressing disclosure in the course of their online research. `Distressing' disclosure refers specifically to information that indicates an online communicant is considering harming him/herself or another/others (e.g. online users' announcements of suicide intentions, threats to kill another person, etc). Given both the nature of online communication and research, those who study internet users and communities may find themselves particularly likely to come across distressing information in their research. Using personal homepages as a case in point, this article inquires: are researchers legally accountable for reacting in some way to the distressing online self-disclosure of those they study? Absent a legal responsibility, do researchers have any ethical or moral obligation to intervene? If an ethical responsibility does suggest itself, what are the barriers to intervention? Finally, how might online researchers prepare themselves for their encounters with distressing self-disclosure?