Ethics of social media research: common concerns and practical considerations

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2013 Sep;16(9):708-13. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0334. Epub 2013 May 16.


Social media Websites (SMWs) are increasingly popular research tools. These sites provide new opportunities for researchers, but raise new challenges for Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) that review these research protocols. As of yet, there is little-to-no guidance regarding how an IRB should review the studies involving SMWs. The purpose of this article was to review the common risks inherent in social media research and consider how researchers can consider these risks when writing research protocols. We focused this article on three common research approaches: observational research, interactive research, and survey/interview research. Concomitant with these research approaches, we gave particular attention to the issues pertinent to SMW research, including privacy, consent, and confidentiality. After considering these challenges, we outlined key considerations for both researchers and reviewers when creating or reviewing SMW IRB protocols. Our goal in this article was to provide a detailed examination of relevant ethics and regulatory issues for both researchers and those who review their protocols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Research / ethics*
  • Behavioral Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Confidentiality / ethics
  • Data Collection
  • Ethics Committees, Research / ethics
  • Ethics Committees, Research / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Observational Studies as Topic / ethics
  • Privacy
  • Social Media / ethics*
  • United States