4.3.3 A Shared Code of Ethics

One may come away from the above discussion with the distinct impression that although the overarching ethical principles being considered in social networks research are fairly clear, the ethical standards being applied in social network research are a hodgepodge collection. This is mostly accurate, at least in part because many of the approaches that have been developed have arisen from individual researchers’ negotiations with their local IRBs to develop procedures that they jointly agree are ethical.

Is it possible to come up with a more consolidated approach to these practices? One suggestion has been that—as is commonly the approach in most academic fields—professional associations could take the lead in developing ethical standards for social networks research (Goolsby 2005). However, given the highly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of social networks research, it is unclear which organization(s) would take the lead in that charge. Perhaps the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) and the Network Science Society could support a joint effort towards the development of such standards. However, the members of those two organizations come from many disciplines, which may make that aim especially difficult; the ethical codes already present across those varied disciplinary professional associations may not be easily aligned under a single umbrella. This leaves as an open question how viable it may be to arrive at a single code of ethics for social network researchers in the same way that sociologists or anthropologists have.