Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs
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The use of the Internet by people who use drugs presents an opportunity for researchers not only to successfully recruit drug users to participate in research, but to go further and engage drug users more fully in dialogue. In this paper, we present data arising from a doctoral research project which examines drug use in an Internet society by focusing on the experiences of participants in online dance music and drug discussion forums, and we examine the ethical issues and problems that arose in this context due to the illegal and stigmatised status of drug use. We chose to engage with forum moderators and users instead of treating public Internet forums as freely available data. Successes and failures that occurred during this process are outlined, and we discuss what was involved in maintaining the discussion threads once they were accepted and supported by group moderators. Issues that arose in attempting to continue engagement beyond recruitment are also discussed. To conclude the paper, we evaluate our efforts to conduct participatory online research and suggest how other researchers investigating illegal and/or stigmatised behaviours may build on our work.
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