I’d like to talk about the ethics and practices surrounding research on and archiving of personal online material. By personal online material I mean personal sites, blogs, and other publicly available, user-generated online materials, as well as the networks or platforms that connect individual nodes (e.g., message boards or Tumblr reblogs). I’m a digital archivist and think a lot about the preservation of online communities and cybercultural heritage, but I’ve recently been seeing some conversations (like this post on transartorialism and this reply on karaj) that have made me feel more strongly about developing a feminist methodology for online research and Web archiving. I’m lumping research and archiving together because I’m interested in both and I think the processes speak to one another: both involve a selection and re-contextualization of materials, both typically come from places of institutional power, and both share similar concerns about the ephemerality and rhizomatic nature of the materials.
It would be great to talk about the liminal space between public and private where these materials reside and the way that power and privilege are negotiated between the researcher or archivist and the subject. What are the practical and ethical differences between researching pro-ana blogs of minors and archiving a commercially successful mommy blogger’s site? What kind practices and infrastructure (e.g., IRB, asking for consent to archive) should be in place to make researchers and archivists accountable for online materials they use?