Challenges in gaining ethical approval for sensitive digital social science studies

Charlie Winter, R.V. Gundur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The swift evolution of digital spaces challenges the established norms of ethical research policy. Ineffective ethical review diminishes researchers’ ability to conduct cutting-edge and socially sensitive research, institutions’ ability to engage at the forefront of technology, and the relationship between researcher and committee. In criminology and other disciplines that navigate sensitive research, especially when working with ephemeral data in digital field sites, researchers require fast ethical approval turnarounds and ethics committees that can navigate ethical issues that challenge norms of analogue research. Few publications consider the ethical challenges that digital research on topics of criminological interest encounter. This study appraises experiences of ethical review in published studies and draws on a survey of digital criminological researchers who faced rejections and roadblocks from ethical review. We show that, when researchers report a disconnect between their needs and their ethics committees’ responses, roadblocks to ethics approval emerge and preclude research, that may be authorized in other comparable research institutions, from proceeding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-46
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number1
Early online date11 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Digital methodology
  • ethics
  • criminology
  • ethics committees
  • digital research


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  • Using digital open source and crowdsourced data in studies of deviance and crime

    Gundur, R. V., Berry, M. & Taodang, D., 15 Jan 2021, (Accepted/In press) Researching Cybercrimes: Methodologies, Ethics, and Critical Approaches. Lavorgna, A. & Holt, T. (eds.). Switzerland: Palgrave, p. 145-168 23 p.

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