Philosophy: Privacy, Objectivity and Norms – University of Copenhagen

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Philosophy: Privacy, Objectivity and Norms

As part of the Social Fabric project, researchers from Section of Philosophy, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, are carrying out three smaller projects. They concern the issue of privacy, objectivity, and norms respectively.

Research and the Right to Privacy

Research must be carried out in such a way that participants’ right to privacy is respected. It is because of this right to privacy that researchers typically make sure that all collected data are treated confidentially and anonymized such that participants’ identity is protected. Further, the right to privacy is taken into account in the process of collecting data. For instance, it is typically regarded as a violation of participants’ right to privacy if they are not aware that data about them is being collected; if they don’t grasp the extent of the information being collected about them; or if they feel watched over or invaded during the data collection process. This subproject has as its focus how it may be ensured that the right to privacy is respected during the collection of data: Under what circumstances is there a risk of violating the right to privacy when data about social networks is collected by way of a smart phone app and by use of participant observation? How may a violation of this right be avoided? And does it matter whether several methods, such as data collection by way of the smart phone app and participant observation, are employed?

Objective Research

In the social fabric project data about social networks are collected by way of both quantitative and qualitative methods: Data are gathered using the smart phone app (a quantitative method) and these data are supplemented by data gathered, among other things, by carrying out participant observation (a qualitative method). It is often held that so-called quantitative methods are more objective than qualitative ones. But is that is really so? The present subproject discusses this question while drawing on recent discussions of objectivity within the philosophy of science: What features are distinctive of an objective method? Is the collection of data by way of the smart phone app a more objective method than participant observation? To what extent is it possible to increase the objectivity of these two methods? And does it matter for the objectivity of both methods that they are combined as they are in the social fabric project?

Norms of interaction in social media

When interacting with others face-to-face, we have access to a host of social cues regarding other people and the social setting surrounding us: By means of our eyes, we can tell whether we find ourselves in a church room and, by the tone of voice of our interaction partners, we can hear if our actions aggravate them. In what way, then, is our ability to decode each others’ normative expectations affected when the interaction takes place online where our access to social cues is reduced to different extents? And, is there a behavioural difference when we interact with people inside our social network as opposed to complete strangers? Is there a connection between correct decoding of the normative expectations in a given situation, and whether or not we are personally acquainted with the others? Finally, in what respect can potential anonymity and geographical distance—both of which significantly reduce the risk of our actions having moral consequences—be said to affect our norm compliance? Those are some of the questions this subproject investigates.