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Social media: the relevance for research
  1. Joanna Smith,
  2. Linda Jane Milnes
  1. School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to : Dr Joanna Smith,
    School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9UT, UK; j.e.smith1{at}

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Social media is changing the way health professionals and care organisations engage with patients and the public. Given the increased role of online systems and social media platforms in healthcare delivery, and the vast volume of information generated, it is unsurprising that opportunities to use online data for health surveillance/monitoring and for research are being realised.1 While these readily available data have obvious attractions for researchers, they also pose challenges to traditional research methods and requires different ethical considerations. This article will briefly outline the key issues when undertaking social media research and the ethical challenges in terms of the risks and benefits to participants and researchers.

Social media in healthcare

In its broadest context, social media refers to the interactions that take place within virtual communities through web-based platforms as a means of sharing information, ideas, personal messages, images and developing networks and collaborations in real time.1 Although constantly evolving, social media tools and platforms include:

  • Social networking (Facebook, MySpace);

  • Professional networking (LinkedIn, Researchgate);

  • Media sharing (YouTube, …

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