Toward a goodwill ethics of online research methods

Brittany Kelley

University of Jamestown, Jamestown, North Dakota, United States

[0.1] Abstract—As more academic work (teaching, research, and publishing) moves online, we acafans face ever more challenges regarding how academia and online communities can and should interact. Since academia enjoys a position of power, while fan communities are often highly marginalized, I argue that, as acafans, we have a special responsibility to the fan communities we engage with and study. Fulfilling this responsibility means using what I call a goodwill ethics heuristic approach to online research methods, which requires us to balance the concerns of fans with those of scholarly development. In order to trace what this goodwill heuristic approach to online research methods might look like, I start by examining ethical values of research methods as they are defined by the Belmont Report. I then revisit the methods of previous fan studies. I add to these methods an extended set of ethical values as they have been described by prominent scholars in a range of fields using human subjects research. Finally, I discuss my own online fannish profile, focusing on my self-positioning and how it has been crucial in developing a goodwill ethics approach in my own research. Ultimately, I argue that all online research should use a goodwill ethics heuristic approach, and that such an approach is chiefly characterized by researchers' willingness to abdicate their expert status where necessary; ongoing negotiations between researchers and participants; and researchers' taking sufficient time to establish both an emic perspective of the community or site being researched and relationships with participants.

[0.2] Keywords—Literacy; Methodology; Qualitative; Technology

Kelley, Brittany. 2016. "Toward a Goodwill Ethics of Online Research Methods." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22.

1. Introduction

[1.1] On February 13, 2015, an article appeared in the Daily Californian about a new course at UC Berkeley: The Theory of Fanfiction (Van Tooke 2015). In the course, students read and discussed fan fiction stories, considering their genre features, especially as these features related to gender, sexuality, and kink. Just a few days after the release of the article (weeks after the start of the course), waldorph, a fan author, updated a Tumblr blog to warn the fan community about the course. Confused to see comments being left on one of their older stories, waldorph found out it was required reading. Waldorph's response is telling:

[1.2] The comments I received were bizarrely tone-deaf, condescending, rude, and more than that, completely out of step and touch with all fannish norms…Unfortunately, I dealt with this all week before one of the teachers stepped in, and that was only when I started receiving flaming trolls.

[1.3] For this reason, I've alerted all of the authors listed on the syllabus that they're about to experience this because, frankly, I would have appreciated a heads up. (Tumblr, February 22, 2015)

[1.4] Waldorph's closing paragraph is a poignant reminder that the academy's actions in relation to online communities can have significant consequences: "Ultimately, there's nothing we can do about people examining works that we never meant to be examined this way. I think we all have to accept that the way fandom gets interacted with is changing, not just the way that we interact with the rest of the world. I do think that as a community we can and should support each other." From waldorph's perspective, the main issue was not that students were reading and responding to their stories but how they were responding. Indeed, the comment that waldorph "would have appreciated a heads up" reads to me as a serious understatement. It is clear that for waldorph, the creation of this course, without any kind of outreach to the fan community, was a serious breach of fan etiquette.

[1.5] While academics should have the freedom to engage critically with cultural texts, including online fan texts, I would also point out that, unlike authors of traditionally published works (that is, works published through academic or commercial presses), fan writers are often not protected from censure. Online fan spaces were created as safe zones for fans to engage in reading and writing that was otherwise unsanctioned, and as such, they have developed certain rules of engagement in order to both support and protect their participants. Busse and Hellekson (2012) have argued that "many fans find unacceptable the notion that their works may be freely perused by outsiders. Fan publications…are perceived as existing in a closed, private space even though they may be publicly available" (39). This perception has a long history in fan communities that have been extremely stigmatized (Jenkins 1992; Bacon-Smith 1992). Historically, fans have seen themselves as resistant to dominant forms of consumption, and this status is fiercely protected and defended in fan circles. I argue that the defense and support of fan works within fan communities is representative of a larger fan ethics of goodwill (what Hellekson [2009] has referred to as a gift economy).

[1.6] The Theory of Fanfiction course raises important questions about the university and its relationship to other communities. It is important to note that this class was designed and taught by undergraduate students who doubtless had little (if any) training in the ethics of moving into and engaging with new communities. However, I would argue that UC Berkeley nonetheless had a responsibility to its students and to the communities those students might study to consider the ethical quandaries such a course might pose. One reason that this did not happen may be that some scholars (even seasoned ones) still view texts on the Internet as analogous to texts published in print; another may be that many in the academy are still unfamiliar with the ethical particularities of working with online communities. Furthermore, although this example concerns teaching, it raises questions relevant to all forms of academic work and scholarship. The debate instigated by the course and waldorph's response, which has come to be referred to in fan communities as "Fangate" or "Theory of Ficgate," was on the minds and lips of all fan studies scholars at the 2014 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in New Orleans, where most sessions ended up discussing the ethical responsibilities we hold as academics when we go into fan spaces. I start with this example, then, because it is incumbent upon us as academics, and certainly upon those of us who identify as acafans, to think and then rethink the ethics of our online research methods in fan spaces and beyond.

[1.7] In this article, taking into consideration scholars of research ethics such as Whiteman (2012), I argue that as acafans, we have a responsibility to enact an ethics of goodwill that balances the concerns of fans with those of scholarly development. In order to trace what this goodwill heuristic approach to online research methods might (and should) look like, I start by examining ethical values of research methods as they are defined by the Belmont Report (a foundational document shaping the wide variety of institutional research board [IRB] protocols). I then revisit the methods of previous fan studies. I add to these methods an extended set of ethical values as they have been described by prominent scholars in a range of fields using human subjects research, including education, social work, and rhetoric and composition. Finally, I discuss my own online fannish profile, focusing on my self-positioning and how it has been crucial in developing a goodwill ethics approach in my own research. Ultimately, I argue that all online research should use a goodwill ethics heuristic approach, and that such an approach is chiefly characterized by researchers' willingness to abdicate their expert status where necessary; ongoing negotiations between researchers and participants; and researchers' taking sufficient time to establish both an emic perspective of the community or site being researched and relationships with participants.

2. Values of goodwill ethics of research

[2.1] The very first document many researchers are provided with as they begin considering their methods for human subjects research, and certainly the first one provided in IRB training in the United States, is the Belmont Report, first released by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1979, when it focused largely on medical research. It has since become the standard of research ethics in academic institutions, though its application varies from institution to institution, depending on individual IRB committees. I focus here only on the basic ethical principles that all researchers are introduced to through this report, and how these have largely been codified into the official IRB application documents (particularly study summaries and sample consent forms). Given the wide variance across institutions, the entire IRB process is outside the scope of this article; it has been discussed in depth by the research ethics scholar Heidi McKee (2003). The Belmont Report is structured around three ethical principles: (1) respect for persons, (2) beneficence, and (3) justice. Respect for persons is defined as incorporating "at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection." Beneficence is defined as following "two general rules": "(1) do not harm and (2) maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms." And finally, justice is conceived of as providing equal opportunities for people or communities to participate in a study, as well as for researchers to carefully consider the benefits and burdens their studies may carry with them for participating communities. These principles can cover a wide range of research situations, but they have generally been codified in the following ways (McKee 2003): (1) obtaining the informed consent of subjects, (2) anonymizing or de-identifying data through such means as the use of pseudonyms, (3) keeping all data secure, and (4) constraining the collection of data to the time of research, which is typically 1 year from the date of IRB approval.

[2.2] The Belmont Report's stated ethical principles form an important foundation for researchers, and the typical codifications of these (especially the use of consent forms) can help researchers to consider the goals and ethics of their research as they develop their methods. However, these processes are an artifact of medical research, a model that places "the entire research enterprise more starkly within the broader economic and political systems which favor an individualistic…and a capitalist approach to knowledge generation quite at odds with the collaborative, egalitarian, social change focus of action research" (Brydon-Miller 2009, 246). In other words, simply trusting the Belmont Report and the relevant IRB process will not ensure the establishment of complex goodwill relationships among researchers and participants. The Belmont Report provides an excellent starting set of values for researchers, but online spaces require us to come up with a set of heuristic, goodwill-focused values to better address and balance the needs of researchers and online spaces. The Association of Internet Researchers has started to build these kinds of values (see especially AOIR 2012), but it is important to continue adding to these as we learn more about the complexities of different online spaces and practices. In order to move toward this goodwill ethics heuristic, in the next section I will address previous fan research as a particularly useful methodological foundation for fan studies.

3. Goodwill methodology and online research

[3.1] In order to begin a thoughtful discussion of research methods and ethics, especially in light of the conflict that arose in the wake of the UC Berkeley fan fiction course, we must take a look at previous fan studies. Central among the foundational works are Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers (1992) and Camille Bacon-Smith's Enterprising Women (1992), both of which established an ethnographic approach to researching fan practices. It is important to remember that Jenkins and Smith would have had almost no access to fan materials if they had not communicated personally with fans, both face to face and over the phone. Nonetheless, neither of these studies would have gained the traction it did without its author's careful concern for fans. Since these publications, many fan scholars have similarly taken an ethnographic approach to research, which strongly places the focus of research on human participants. In addition to this ethical positioning, fan scholars have pondered what can be considered public or private; whether their studies concern texts or people; when, how, and from whom to gain consent; and whether it is appropriate to "lurk" in a community. Finally, acafans continue to fiercely debate how we will write up our research and what acknowledgments and identifiers we will use.

[3.2] There are a wide range of approaches to using online fan texts in research, especially since many of these texts are openly accessible. In a recent article posted to The Learned Fangirl, Bethan Jones argues that is it tricky to decide what can reasonably be judged as public or private in fan spaces, and that fan works are often "posted as a private act in a public space" (2016). However, as Busse and Hellekson (2012) have discussed, if the scholarly focus is largely on a close reading of a text, then the discursive features matter, and, therefore, authors should receive credit for their work (49). While it is true that many, perhaps most, fans expect that their writing will circulate only among fellow fans, I would argue (as does Whiteman 2012) that either requiring each author's consent to discuss a story or speaking of stories only in the aggregate is not only largely untenable but potentially disruptive, and, what's more, not necessarily in the best interest of either scholarship or fandom. A goodwill approach to fan scholarship should take the time to consider and negotiate fans' privacy concerns and make research findings fully available to fans. Furthermore, goodwill requires what bell hooks would call a "loving critique": taking the time to analyze, engage with, and question fan texts just as fans do with popular culture texts.

[3.3] A goodwill approach to research ethics in fan studies is rooted in the ethnographic perspectives and methods used by early fan scholars (Jenkins 1992; Bacon-Smith 1992). The first key to achieving a goodwill ethics is to spend enough time in the fannish space to get a sense of how it operates and, therefore, what practices fans might see as acceptable (Whiteman 2012; AOIR 2012; Freund and Fielding 2013). Different scholars of online fan activity have used this approach to gain very different understandings of what fans might expect in terms of privacy, consent, and participation. Boellstorff (2008) knew that, in studying Second Life, he couldn't feasibly lurk, but that it would also be untenable to describe and analyze the space without providing certain identifiers, including the game's name and information about his character in it. Kendall (2002) knew that she couldn't lurk in the chat room she was studying, and as a result, she got to know her participants so well that there was a high risk that they might be identifiable in her writing, which could have risked their jobs. Therefore, she decided to employ a system of pseudonyms and obfuscation. "I based my decision to change BlueSky participants' online pseudonyms in part on the conclusion, based on my research, that such pseudonyms are important 'identity pegs' that enter into real and important online interactions and relationships. In my experience, objections to the provision of 'pseudo-pseudonyms' in research reports often come from people who do not view online forums such as muds as 'real' social spaces" (Kendall 2002, 241). Given what she knew of her site participants, her approach is appropriate. However, it may not be right for all projects with all fan sites or activities. The beauty of a goodwill values-based heuristic is that it allows researchers to address the ethics of their research methods in each context they may find themselves in.

[3.4] In her study of X-Files (1993–2002) and Due South (1994–99) fans, Rhiannon Bury (2005) took a different approach to the issues of privacy, consent, and participation. Like Kendall, Bury never conducted any of her official research as a lurker. Rather, Bury chose to participate entirely in her research sites in an ethnographic manner, stating that "conducting ethnographic research online is more than reading a newsgroup archive with no contact with participants" (24). Borrowing from Hine (2000), Bury asserts that effective online research, especially online ethnography, cannot be conducted without both gathering texts and talking to participants. From the start, then, she rules out lurking as an acceptable method of research. This did produce some challenges for her, particularly in gaining participants' consent. "Like any research project involving human subjects," she writes, "ethical guidelines must be followed…Since the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigades and the Militant RayK Separatists are closed lists, access could not have been gained without explicit permission of the members. I prepared formal letters of consent as part of the ethics review process at the universities where I was a graduate student and faculty member" (23–24). She did more than send consent forms, however. In order to gain the kind of consent and participant–researcher relationship she wanted, she set up her own fan e-mail list for David Duchovny fans (related to the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigades lists). Only participants who agreed to the terms of the study were on that list, and Bury still obtained specific consent to quote comments posted to the list.

[3.5] When we study fandom, we are looking at people interacting, which very often requires that we use a qualitative approach. However, the online environment poses particular difficulties to research, especially the need to protect participants' privacy. Natasha Whiteman has written extensively on research ethics in Undoing Ethics: Rethinking Practice in Online Research, in which she argues that we should undo blanket ethics, and instead develop new ethics for each case and space that we study. "Whilst this limits the 'power' of our ethical statements, this delimiting also means that our decisions are more sensitive to the nature of the setting…and that the researcher is less likely (perhaps) to be destructive through a lack of consideration of the particular characteristics of the research and the research setting" (Whiteman 2012, 13). She urges online researchers to be attentive to our online spaces and communities so that we can see precisely how participants view the rules of engagement. That way, we can weigh their expectations against our own positioning and the research goals of the institutions we work within. She is very clear, however, that although we should carefully consider our participants' expectations for good research, we should not always defer to them (Whiteman 2012, 68).

[3.6] Using an ethnographic approach to fan studies requires that researchers gain a clear view of the particulars of their site(s) of study. In contrast to Whiteman's reluctance to defer too much to participants' needs and feelings, I argue that an ethnographic perspective requires researchers to be extremely attentive to them. Moreover, I argue that the academy's current approach to interaction with online communities, in research and in teaching, would benefit from a values-based heuristic in each new site, especially considering the highly variable training and institutional guidelines that researchers (and teachers) may be working within. In the studies that I have discussed so far, the researchers did their best to understand how the online communities operated, to make community members aware that research was being done, and to anonymize data in order to protect participant identities. However, as more and more research (as well as writing and teaching) will be done online, it is important not only to take a local approach to online research (Whiteman 2012), but to revisit values that have developed in the traditions of human subjects, social research (in such fields as education, social work, and rhetoric and composition), and action research, in order to better define what an effective heuristic for online communities and practices might look like by providing a set of guiding value terms. In the next section, I will move through important human subjects research in the social research and action research traditions in order to address three necessary guiding value terms for approaching online research methods: respect, reciprocity, and transparency.

4. Toward an ethical heuristic of respect, reciprocity, and transparency

[4.1] Respect is an underlying value that has been upheld since the Belmont Report and is maintained in recent, more generalized research methods. Its definition in the Belmont Report focuses on subjects' autonomy, but the concept has been greatly expanded in the growing tradition of human subjects research in the humanities and social sciences.

[4.2] Respect for persons, for example, under the guidelines of the Belmont Report and most sets of human subjects research guidelines, is limited to providing research subjects with the opportunity to decline to participate in a particular study and is assumed to be addressed through the informed consent process.

[4.3] In action research, on the other hand, this principle extends to our conviction that all individuals have the capacity to contribute to the process of knowledge generation and the right to play an active role in shaping policies and processes that affect their own well-being and that of their families and communities. (Brydon-Miller 2008, 202)

[4.4] Collaborative knowledge generation and policy shaping mean different things in different types of studies, but very generally, they have meant that researchers should

  1. Be careful about how they represent participants, their research, and themselves.
  2. Maximize opportunities for collaboration, or at least reciprocity, with participants.
  3. So far as possible, be transparent with participants about their goals, methods, analyses, and conclusions throughout the research process.

[4.6] Respect has been one of the most difficult ethical values to define, especially when we understand ethical decision-making as always local, and as "an activity that is engaged in throughout the research process and is therefore in motion rather than fixed: ethics as, and in, process" (Whiteman 2012, 9). Within this process-oriented and flexible approach to respect in person-focused research, respect expands to include an ongoing consideration of representation—of the participants, the study, and, from recruitment to reporting, the researcher. Researchers' self-representation can introduce the greatest risk of misinterpretation, appropriation, and even ideological violence, because participants are seduced (Newkirk 1996) into a study by the supposed objectivity of the researchers and the professionalism and authority of the institutional consent forms. Newkirk (1996) argues that, "paradoxically, the measures devised to protect those being studied often aid the researcher in the seduction…Typically these [consent] forms provide a very brief and often vague description of the project, and then provide a number of assurances" (4). In other words, while it is important to have consent forms, and while it is certainly pleasant for a researcher to have an approachable demeanor, these elements could invite participants to share more than they might otherwise.

[4.7] One way to ameliorate this problem of seduction and betrayal is to warn participants that the conclusions of the study will not necessarily put them in a favorable light (Newkirk 1996, 13). Another is to take special care in how participants are represented. Even better is to share the report with participants as soon as possible, and to be willing to talk through its writing, so participants can have a chance to negotiate different meanings, and even to pull out of the research entirely. But another particularly productive avenue is for researchers to take great care in how they position and represent themselves throughout the research process: they should work through what Brydon-Miller (2008, 2009) has called structured ethical reflection. Brydon-Miller (2008) has suggested that, in preparing our research, "we might begin with a critical examination of ourselves as individual researchers using a first-person action research approach" (204). This approach requires researchers to deeply and recursively explore their ideological and ethical foundations—to ask themselves what they are taking for granted. It requires them not only to examine, name, and question their core values but also, as Michelle Fine (1994) has put it, to work the hyphen: "By working the hyphen, I mean to suggest that researchers probe how we are in relation with the contexts we study and with our informants, understanding that we are all multiple in those relations" (72). In other words, not only should we critically examine and position ourselves, we should take care in representing both our relationships with our participants and their own self-positioning in their communities. Both deeply considering our own positioning and openly communicating with study participants are ways to reduce the risk of seduction while still achieving a loving critique of fan practices.

[4.8] However, while this process absolutely requires sharing the personal, it does not mean confessing the personal for its own sake. Rather, it means sharing the personal while considering what participants might make of our positions and self-representations. Gesa Kirsch and Joy Ritchie (1995) suggest

[4.9] that composition researchers theorize their locations by examining their experiences as reflections of ideology and culture, by reinterpreting their own experiences through the eyes of others, and by recognizing their own split selves, their multiple and often unknowable identities. Further, we propose changes in research practices, such as collaborating with participants in the development of research questions, the interpretation of data at both the descriptive and interpretive levels, and the writing of research reports. (8)

[4.10] Put another way, a truly goodwill ethical positioning requires that we abdicate the throne of expertise and open ourselves to vulnerability. This means not only being open and thoughtful about our positions (as fans and researchers), but being willing to negotiate our analyses and conclusions with participants, or, at the very least, carefully balancing participants' interpretations of and conclusions about their engagement in fan communities with our own loving critiques of those spaces and practices. What's more, as Powell and Takayoshi (2003) have argued, sometimes it is essential in goodwill research methods that we respond to participants' needs by understanding and sometimes enacting roles that participants might wish us to play, in addition to enacting our roles as researchers.

[4.11] This is where respect and representation meet reciprocity in an ethical research value system. Powell and Takayoshi (2003) describe reciprocity as a "nonhierarchical, reciprocal relationship, in which both researcher and researched learn from one another and have a voice in the study, [that] is informed by a feminist desire for eliminating power inequalities between researchers and participants and a concern for the difficulties of speaking for 'the other'" (395). Moreover, an ethical approach to research methods includes not only consideration for participants, but a sense of what Brydon-Miller (2009) would refer to as covenantal ethics, which are focused "on the development of caring and committed relationships, on respect for people's knowledge and experience, and on working with community partners to achieve positive social change" (253). The term "covenant" is crucial here, as it suggests a deep and even sacred duty to one's study participants, "a solemn and personally compelling commitment to act in the good of others" (255). Ultimately, this means that ethical research values that enact goodwill require relationships between researchers and participants to be forged and maintained.

[4.12] Finally, these relationships can be neither ethically forged nor maintained without full transparency. In human subjects research, particularly within the tradition of action research, transparency has meant not only discussing consent forms, interview questions, and methods (such as of observation) with participants in person, but also a sense of collaboration with participants. As Williams and Brydon-Miller (2012) have put it:

[4.13] In the case of digital research, two additional principles seem to us to be especially salient: transparency (i.e. the extent to which the entire research process is clearly articulated to participants and those using the research) and democratic practice (i.e. the extent to which participants are able to contribute to the research process from the creation of research questions through decisions regarding dissemination of results). (185)

[4.14] Since research is a recursive process, transparency requires researchers to continually revisit the goals of their study and to discuss these goals with all participants to make sure they know what's at stake: for them, for the researchers, and for the research report. A truly goodwill ethics of research requires that researchers always be willing to negotiate with participants about the goals, conclusions, gains, and risks of the study.

[4.15] The guiding values of respect, reciprocity, and transparency form an excellent foundation for a values-based heuristic to help us continue developing and redeveloping ethical research methods in studies involving human subjects. Many of these values translate directly into online research. But many must also be amended in the digital environment because of this technology's different affordances for production, circulation, and access. In particular, as was seen in waldorph's case above, the online environment raises important concerns regarding traceability, concepts of ownership and authorship, and distinctions between public and private. But since the online environment still involves humans, it is appropriate to turn to the ethical research methods developed in human subjects research, especially in the humanities and social sciences. In the next section, I will take these values of respect, reciprocity, and transparency and apply them to my own methods in my study of online fan fiction practices.

5. Making myself vulnerable: The fan girl reaching from her ivory tower

[5.1] So far in this article, I've focused heavily on the themes of person-based research and IRB certification, as well as sets of values that have tended to inform and shape human subjects research methods, both face-to-face and online. What I have not yet discussed in any depth is the positioning and (self-)representation of the researcher. But as Fine (1994) made clear, it is essential that we probe the complexities and values of researchers as they position themselves in their fields, in their publications, and in relation to both their potential and actual research participants. I began my journey as a researcher terrified of revealing my fan status. But the more I engaged with fan fiction as a researcher, and the more I considered what fan fiction might have to teach us about learning, writing, and self, the more I acknowledged that it was impossible to remain entirely behind the mask of an objective academic. As I began to see the Internet not as a neutral (and absolute) tool, but rather as a shifting set or sets of social practices (Hine 2000; Jenkins 2006), I began to realize I needed not only to be more thoughtful in the consent and data collection processes, but also to make myself vulnerable to academia and (prospective and current) participants by proudly proclaiming my status as fan girl and acafan.

[5.2] I began doing this by writing an open profile for inclusion on my fan fiction sites of study. This profile (which is a variant of the recruitment e-mail I developed for the IRB certification process) is excerpted below.

[5.3] Hi! My penname is PhoenixSongFalling, and I've been a Harry Potter fan since I was 15 years old. I first discovered fanfiction during my junior year of college in 2007. I had just finished reading through the whole series (for the third time), and I was chomping at the bit for the seventh book to come out that next summer. Needless to say, I got hooked on fanfiction. I loved all kinds of pairings, but especially Harry and Draco, and, to my surprise, Hermione and Severus. I loved dystopian, "Voldemort wins" stories, and fluffy, romantic stories, and Time Turner stories. I lurked for a long time. I then started writing my own fanfiction story about Severus Snape, an original character, and a Time Turner accident…I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't finished it yet, but I hope to do so soon…

[5.4] But I'm also here as a researcher. My academic alter ego also really loves fanfiction…I am currently working on a PhD in English…I am most interested in researching how people write in different kinds of spaces—school v. personal v. work v. online, etc.

[5.5] From a procedural, legalistic perspective, there is nothing wrong with the document—a version of it was certified by the IRB, after all. From an ethical perspective, however, there are still some issues to consider. In particular, it is important for me to ask: How does this profile enact the goodwill research ethics of respect, reciprocity, and transparency?

[5.6] It succeeds in being transparent, as it makes clear my status as a researcher, my academic affiliation, the general interests of my project, my methods, and, importantly, my contact information for any complaints or negotiations. However, it's unclear how far it goes beyond the solipsistic use of the personal (see Kirsch and Ritchie 1995). While the first paragraph does establish my fan status, it seems very shallow when compared to the three paragraphs that follow, establishing me as a scholar and researcher. The declaration of the personal here can seem like a cheap effort to establish in-group status. It resembles the arrival story trope of the ethnographic tradition in anthropology, in which a stranger arrives in an alien world, except that I'm cast as a sympathetic fellow fan who just happens to be in graduate school. Even worse, this profile heavily emphasizes my academic status, and therefore risks seducing participants (Newkirk 1996). The profile also explains that I'm interested in researching fan fiction because it "is, well, really fascinating to me. How I think about myself as a writer, and how I think about what good, supportive writing communities can look like, is heavily influenced by my engagement with fanwriting." This passage appears to place the focus of study on myself, rather than making clear that I will be critically reading other fans' work. The profile's wording takes for granted my own benevolence and membership in the group, rather than genuinely acknowledging the power differentials between my academic position and the marginalized positions of so many fan writers. And while it attempts to respect fans and to be transparent about the nature of my work, it falls short of truly inviting discussion or negotiation with other fans, nor does it do any of the critical work that Kirsch and Ritchie (1995), Brydon-Miller (2008, 2009), McKee (2003, 2007), and McKee and Porter (2009, 2015) have called for.

[5.7] Nonetheless, I have done my best to develop, adjust, and enact a goodwill ethics of online research methods in this project, as I believe most researchers do. Importantly, this means continually reconsidering the very terms "goodwill," "ethics," and "methods," and for me this has meant being vulnerable. This is partly a result of my decision to take an ethnographic perspective in my research; ethnography "has long been identified as a method based on vulnerability, even failure, on learning from mistakes" (Boellstorff 2008, 72). It's difficult to achieve an emic perspective without participating, and, therefore, taking on some of the risk faced by the other participants. Ethnography is impossible without a goodwill disposition, which, I would argue, requires the willingness to become vulnerable.

[5.8] "Vulnerability" is a tricky term. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "vulnerable" comes from the Latin vulnerabilis, "wounding." It has generally meant being open to attack. But vulnerabilis comes from vulnerare, "to wound," and in the 17th century the word "vulnerable" was sometimes used to mean "having the power to wound." I'd like to rehabilitate this double meaning here. When I use the term "vulnerable" in my work, I am admitting that my academic position gives me the power to wound, which then requires that I be willing to accept being wounded myself. Of course, vulnerability often connotes weakness, ineptness, and emotionality. I admit that I cannot shake off these troublesome connotations. In fact, I argue that they can be helpful in my structuring of vulnerability, because they highlight the emotional and embodied elements of experience, which are crucial to what I am trying to openly incorporate into my work. I argue that it is possible—à la Micciche (2007)—to do vulnerability, to turn vulnerability into a calculated, rhetorical move or device that may undermine academia's potentially violent appropriation of communities. If I do vulnerability, then I must truly open myself to critique by fans, in order to ameliorate or even rid myself of the unnecessary wounding my work could do.

[5.9] It is with an awareness of the double-edged blade of doing vulnerability that I'd like to "work the hyphen" (Fine 1994) of the troubling and troublesome term "acafan." The shape of the term suggests several things: that an academic can be (or is) a fan, and vice versa (on a horizontal, equalizing plane); that the acafan is always an academic first and a fan second; and, finally, that one of the two aspects must be not only primary but more powerful—the aca(demic). Hills (2002) referred to this conundrum as a moral dualism. Fine (1994) would refer to this structure as the Self-Other form: she examines "the hyphen at which Self-Other join in the politics of everyday life, that is, the hyphen that both separates and merges personal identities with our inventions of Others" (70). Therefore, the term "acafan" primarily breaks down to indicate that the Self is an academic while the Other is a fan. In other words, part of the Self is isolated and even excised as the troublesome Other—an Other who is entirely too emotional, subjective, bodily, even feminine (see Jenkins 1992 on the feminine and feminized fan). However, by doing vulnerability, as I discussed above, we could see the term as admitting the power to wound that our academic positions allow us, and also opening ourselves to wounding by owning our fan Selves. Still, we have to be careful not to merge "aca" and "fan" too closely as we work from our powerful positions within academia, or we may reify damaging research methods. Doing the vulnerable "aca-fan" requires us to carefully tread the hyphenated space between academia and fandom such that both worlds can exist on the same level and overlapping, rather than in a violent vertical hierarchy where the myth of the distant, disinterested academic mind prevails.

6. Conclusion: Still toward a goodwill ethics of online research

[6.1] I began this article by discussing how UC Berkeley's fan fiction course brought academic literacy practices and values into fandom without first considering how fans might feel about them, even though both creators and supporters of the course identified as fans. Their failure to contact the fan writers whose work they were assigning before the course began may have been due not only to their being undergraduate students, but perhaps also to their having had very different experiences within fandom. I am sure that they did not mean any harm. Nonetheless, it would have been better for them to be trained to more deeply consider what it means to explore and engage with a community outside of academia, especially when that community is so vulnerable. Waldorph's highly negative response to the course is just one of a complex network of fans' perspectives on academics' research into their community activities. This is not to say that all fans oppose research into fandom; simply that, when we are studying online fan communities, our research methods should take on more of the values of humanities-inspired human subjects research in order to more ethically address fan concerns. If we are academics who are fans, then we have an especial responsibility to "support each other," as waldorph states. But even if we are not fans in the same way that our study participants are, we still owe it to both these communities and future generations of academics to act ethically in all of our scholarly endeavors.

[6.2] The nearly global ubiquity of digital and Internet technologies has raised some crucial concerns about privacy, ownership, and representation. In the current moment, the entities with the most power over representation are institutions—corporations, the government, and even academia (MacKinnon 2012; McKee 2007). The onus is therefore on us, as scholars, to develop ethical research methods. Many fan scholars and fan studies scholars have addressed ethical issues in online research (Busse and Hellekson 2012; Whiteman 2012; AOIR 2012; Freund and Fielding 2013), particularly in terms of the unique issues that fans in online spaces face. In this paper, I go beyond Whiteman (2012) to argue that ethical online research should consider the rules of engagement participants have for the spaces in which research is done. Particularly in fan studies, we need a values-based heuristic to help guide our ethical decision-making in these spaces. I have taken the concept of goodwill from my own participation in and understanding of fan fiction communities. Members of these communities tacitly understand that we strive both to maintain the integrity of the universes we so love, and to encourage others to keep reading or watching, discussing, and writing about these universes. What best define these goodwill ethics are the values of respect, reciprocity, transparency, and, I argue, vulnerability.

[6.3] We show respect by openly and carefully representing ourselves, as complex as that prospect is, as well as representing participants in ways they might represent themselves. We enact reciprocity not only by providing balanced accounts of the communities we study, but also by accepting and fulfilling some roles these communities might ask of us. We are transparent when we state our positions, values, institutional affiliations, and methods, and are willing to negotiate the latter. And, finally, we can best achieve all three by doing vulnerability. Waldorph stated, "I think that sometimes, when we're leaving comments for each other, it's easy to forget that there's someone on the other side of that computer screen who doesn't necessarily receive the comment in the spirit you intended" (Tumblr, February 18, 2015). In other words, we will be most effective as researchers when we reach out as emotional and embodied humans to the emotional and embodied humans on the other sides of our computer screens.

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