In my first year of university I was given a task to complete.
We were to set out individually onto campus and capture students on camera unknowingly while they used some kind of portable electronic device, and then we were to show them to each other and discuss our findings. At the beginning of the class we were shown a video of a man who uses a digital camera to film people on the street to publicly showcase their reaction on Youtube, where anybody with access to the internet can view them. The purpose of showing us this video was as obvious as the message it was promoting: showcasing somebody’s image without their consent is morally and ethically wrong, and so the class rightfully and respectfully refused to show each other.
We face asking ourselves these kinds of questions every single day where the situation arises, not because we have to, but because we should. Understanding the necessity of ethics in every aspect of life is important, and understanding why that also applies to research is equally and even more-so important, because research can have a large and fatal impact on the lives of everybody. A good example of the danger of unethical research is the treatment received by jewish concentration camp prisoners in the second world war, where extremely inhuman and often fatal experiments were conducted on prisoners of war (weerakoddy 2008). As well as to prevent the harm of others, ethical guidelines in research are put in place to ensure that confidentiality, anonymity, informed consent and privacy requirements are cleared before the research is pursued or presented, this ensures that the entire process is legal when concerning live test participants.
Of course research itself does have it’s own set of guidelines, these consist of certain rules and regulations to verify that all of the work involved is objective, honest and not plagiarised before it is published. Misuse of this conduct can be seen through the ‘perfect family’ exploration, which questionably suggests that if you aren’t apart of a married two-parent family, your life is probably going to be dysfunctional and messy – if it isn’t already. Although there are obvious links to behaviour and separation within family homes, suggesting that this outcome is black and white without considering important individual factors seems like a bit of a stretch, and doesn’t quite fit ethical guidelines because there is no way to prove that this result is honest.
It’s much easier and safer to ensure that what you’re doing is morally and ethically correct, not just because we have to – but because we should.
Weerakoddy N 2008, Research ethics in media and communication, Research methods for media and communications, pp.73-91