Attitudes Toward the Ethics of Research Using Social Media: A Systematic Review

Su Golder, Shahd Amed, Gill Norman, Andrew Booth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Although primarily used for social networking and often used for social support and dissemination, data on social media platforms are increasingly being used to facilitate research. However, the ethical challenges in conducting social media research remain of great concern. Although much debated in the literature, it is the views of the public that are most pertinent to inform future practice.

Objective: The aim of our study was to ascertain attitudes on the ethical considerations of using social media as a data source for research as expressed by social media users and researchers.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted, wherein 16 databases and 2 Internet search engines were searched in addition to handsearching, reference checking, citation searching, and contacting authors and experts. Studies that conducted any qualitative methods to collect data on attitudes on the ethical implications of research using social media were included. Quality assessment was conducted using the quality of reporting tool (QuaRT) and findings analyzed using inductive thematic synthesis.

Results: In total, 17 studies met the inclusion criteria. Attitudes varied from overly positive with people expressing the views about the essential nature of such research for the public good, to very concerned with views that social media research should not happen. Underlying reasons for this variation related to issues such as the purpose and quality of the research, the researcher affiliation, and the potential harms. The methods used to conduct the research were also important. Many respondents were positive about social media research while adding caveats such as the need for informed consent or use restricted to public platforms only.

Conclusions: Many conflicting issues contribute to the complexity of good ethical practice in social media research. However, this should not deter researchers from conducting social media research. Each Internet research project requires an individual assessment of its own ethical issues. Guidelines on ethical conduct should be based on current evidence and standardized to avoid discrepancies between, and duplication across, different institutions, taking into consideration different jurisdictions.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2017


  • social media
  • Systematic review
  • Ethics
  • Qualitative research


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