Social media, research, and ethics: does participant willingness matter?

Pascal Staccini, Annie Y. S. Lau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Objective: To summarise the state of the art published in 2019 in consumer health informatics and education, with a special emphasis on "Ethics and Health Informatics". Methods: We conducted a systematic search of articles published in PubMed using a predefined set of queries, which identified 368 potential articles for review. These articles were screened according to topic relevance and 15 were selected for consideration of best paper candidates, which were then presented to a panel of international experts for full paper review and scoring. The top five papers according to the external reviewers' ranking were discussed in a consensus meeting. Finally, the paper that received the highest score from four of the five experts was selected as the best paper on social media and ethics for patients and consumers of the year 2019. Results: Despite using the terms "ethics" and "ethical" in the search query, we retrieved very few articles. The bibliometric analysis identified three major clusters centred on "social", "health", and "study". Among the top five papers, one was a review where the authors identified ethical issues across four areas at the intersection of social media and health: 1) the impact of social networking sites on the doctor-patient relationship; 2) the development of e-health platforms to deliver care; 3) the use of online data and algorithms to inform health research; and 4) the broader public health consequences of widespread social media use. The other papers highlighted ethical concerns in using social media to interact with patients at different phases of a clinical research protocol, such as recruitment phase, participant engagement, data linkage, and detection and monitoring of adverse events. Conclusions: Findings suggest that most users do not think that using social media for patient monitoring in clinical research, for example using Twitter for clinical trial recruitment, constitutes inappropriate surveillance or a violation of privacy. However, further research is needed to identify whether and how views on ethical concerns differed between social media platforms and across populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-183
Number of pages8
JournalYearbook of Medical Informatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Publisher 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • social media
  • ethiics
  • research design
  • privacy
  • patient selection
  • bibliometrics


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