Going Viral: Researching Safely on Social Media

Kari Vallury, Barbara Baird, Emma Miller, Paul Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
78 Downloads (Pure)


Safety issues for researchers conducting and disseminating research on social media have been inadequately addressed in institutional policies and practice globally, despite posing significant challenges to research staff and student well-being. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and given the myriad of advantages that web-based platforms offer researchers over traditional recruitment, data collection, and research dissemination methods, developing a comprehensive understanding of and guidance on the safe and effective conduct of research in web-based spaces has never been more pertinent. In this paper, we share our experience of using social media to recruit participants for a study on abortion stigma in Australia, which brought into focus the personal, professional, and institutional risks associated with conducting web-based research that goes viral. The lead researcher (KV), a postgraduate student, experienced a barrage of harassment on and beyond social media. The supportive yet uncoordinated institutional response highlighted gaps in practice, guidance, and policy relating to social media research ethics, researcher safety and well-being, planning for and managing web-based and offline risk, and coordinated organizational responses to adverse events. We call for and provide suggestions to inform the development of training, guidelines, and policies that address practical and ethical aspects of using social media for research, mental and physical health and safety risks and management, and the development of coordinated and evidence-based institutional- and individual-level responses to cyberbullying and harassment. Furthermore, we argue the case for the urgent development of this comprehensive guidance around researcher safety on the web, which would help to ensure that universities have the capacity to maximize the potential of social media for research while better supporting the well-being of their staff and students.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere29737
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2021


  • Research methods
  • Safety
  • Social media
  • Abortion
  • Cyber bullying
  • Online bullying
  • Research activities
  • Occupational safety
  • Research ethics
  • Bullying
  • Students


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