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Research Using Social Media

User's views

Girl using laptop
Researchers: Hayley Lepps
Published: February 2014


We spoke to social media users to find out how they felt about their posts and information being used by researchers and what the benefits and harms of this might be.


Views about researchers using social media fell into three categories:

1) Scepticism: that ‘traditional’ research methods are more valid and reliable than online methods,

2) Acceptance: online research is beneficial as it removes bias caused by face-to-face research

3) Ambivalence: those who had no feelings, as they felt it would happen regardless of their opinion.

  • Views depended on the research context and on participants' knowledge of the privacy settings that are available on the different social media websites.
  • Participants also expressed concern about the validity and representativeness of research using social media.This was because people were seen to act differently on- and off-line.
  • Many users believed consent was necessary as it was ‘morally right’. Users wanted to be asked for consent or remain anonymous depending on a number of factors including the purpose of the research.


We undertook four focus groups, two paired interviews and two depth interviews, using a range of vignettes to stimulate discussion.

In total, we spoke to 34 participants sampled to reflect diversity in relation to people's level of internet use, type of interaction with social media and demographics.

Read the report: Research using Social Media; Users’ Views