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All that Glitters is Not Gold: Examining the Perils and Obstacles in Collecting Data on the Internet

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The speed, ease and cost of conducting an internet-based study has attracted an increasingly large number of researchers to the medium for data collection. The lure of conducting research on the internet warrants heightened awareness of the practical problems one may encounter in the course of design and data collection. Researchers should also be attuned to the various threats of reliability and validity that may affect the quality of their data. This article surveys the past literature and identifies four main areas of concern in internet-based research: (1) sampling error and generalizability; (2) subject fraud; (3) measurement errors resulting from extraneous factors, and (4) the ethics of conducting research on the internet. Before carrying out their research on the internet, researchers should carefully weigh the sometimes hidden costs against the obvious benefits to consider whether the results obtained will be seriously compromised by the problems currently existing with this relatively new medium. However, a more productive approach recognizes that this research method is here to stay and thus greater attention needs to be given to refining and clearing the hurdles that internet-based researchers currently face.


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