Foreseeing Risks in Research on Children and Information Disorder

Ethical considerations are of utmost importance when conducting research involving children, and these considerations are even more important when the research is in the area of information disorder. Children are a vulnerable population, and it is essential to prioritize their well-being. At LIRNEasia, we have designed a qualitative study to understand the effectiveness of digital literacy programs targeted at curbing information disorder among children. As part of this study we conducted a risk assessment to identify measures to mitigate the risks in the research process. This write-up aims to explain these measures.


Our risk assessment covered the entire process, from respondent recruitment to research communication. In a nutshell, the study focuses on early adolescents aged 11-18 years in Sri Lanka and employs an experimental approach, comparing the outcomes of two groups: a treatment group and a control group. The treatment group will undergo a digital literacy training program, after which their ability to identify misinformation will be reassessed over several months. Data collection will involve focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. The study aims to evaluate the ability of both groups to discern misinformation, and the data analysis will reveal the effectiveness of the digital literacy program.


Ethical considerations play a fundamental role in this research design for two reasons. Firstly, the research topic focuses on information disorder, which includes misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation, each varying in the degree of harm and falseness[1]. The consequences of misinformation in society can be far-reaching, affecting various aspects of society[2]. Secondly, this research involves children and their parents. The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, published by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council[3], highlights the ethical considerations researchers need to address when accessing individuals’ information, whether in identifiable or non-identifiable form, from existing sources or databases. In this context, when considering our research up to the data collection phase, we have identified five instances where ethical considerations are particularly applicable. Here are those instances and the ways in whichLIRNEasia plans to mitigate associated risks:

  1. Respondent Recruitment

Recruiting children and parents for research studies requires careful attention to potential risks. The field recruiter plays a major role in the respondent recruitment process, which should be closely monitored. LIRNEasia has partnered with a community-based organization (Sarvodaya[4]), which has a proven track record of working in local areas. Sarvodaya has documented policies and ethical

[1]Misinformation is when false information is shared, but no harm is intended. Disinformation is when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm. Malinformation is when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere. Such information might be based on reality, but it is used to inflict harm on a person, organization, or country (e.g. email leaks, online harassment, and hate speech)




guidelines, ensuring that the recruitment process is transparent, trustworthy, and aligns with ethical standards. To mitigate the risk of respondents not receiving sufficient information when giving informed consent, we will ensure that participants, and their parents or (guardians if applicable), fully understand the nature of the study, potential risks and benefits, and their rights as participants. This will be achieved by providing information in simple terms using local languages, obtaining written or verbal consent during recruitment, and re-confirming consent before initiating discussions (data collection).


  1. Obtaining Informed Consent and Confidentiality

Interviews with children and their parents can pose ethical challenges, particularly in terms of breaching confidentiality or potentially influencing parents’ decision to allow their children to participate. To address these concerns, we will obtain informed consent from parents, clearly explaining the nature of the research and the information that will be collected. Providing detailed information about study procedures, potential risks, and benefits can further enhance parents’ understanding and informed decision-making. In addition, pseudonymization methods will be used to protect research participants’ identities when collecting data.


  1. Data Collection

When conducting focus group discussions with children, it is essential to consider the potential risks they may face. LIRNEasia foresees two risks at this stage of the research: stigma due to participation and the sensitivity areas covered by the discussion guide. To address the issue of stigma, we will select discussion moderators from the same locality or ethnicity as the research participants, and pseudonymization methods will be used to protect research participants’ identities when handling data. Sensitive areas in the discussion guide will be considered based on factors such as age, ethnicity, language, and sector (urban, rural, or estate), of the participants. The moderators will be aware of specific sensitivities that may arise during the discussions and will use child-appropriate language to mitigate risks. In addition, we will pilot test the research instruments to ensure they are suitable for the emotional well-being of the participants.


  1. Assessing Misinformation

Younger children may struggle to understand the distinction between genuine and misleading information, potentially causing distress or stigma. To mitigate these risks, we will use age-appropriate materials and language, ensuring that the participants comprehend the nature of the study. Furthermore, we will maintain the confidentiality of participants’ responses and personal information throughout the research. The moderators will conduct debriefing sessions after the discussions, allowing participants to raise any concerns or questions regarding the information shared during the discussion.


  1. Follow-Up Visits

Visiting children’s households at regular intervals can raise concerns related to privacy invasion and cultural sensitivity. We will communicate clearly with parents about the purpose of the study and what to expect during these visits. By selecting researchers from local communities who are aware of cultural norms and practices, potential cultural insensitivity can be mitigated. Respecting participants’ privacy and confidentiality is important to build trust and ensure their comfort throughout the research process.


In summary, conducting research on information disorder with child participants requires careful consideration of potential risks and the implementation of appropriate measures. Our risk assessment on the research design reveals potential ethical concerns that researchers need to address. Some of the measures to mitigate risks include engaging with community-based organizations for respondent recruitment, maintaining transparent communication, being sensitive to diversity, and safeguarding participants’ privacy. Ethical research practices contribute to the integrity and validity of research findings and foster trust between researchers, participants, and the broader community.