Views on social media and its linkage to longitudinal data from two generations of a UK cohort study [version 2; peer review: 2 approved]

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

August 15, 2020


Background: Cohort studies gather huge volumes of information about a range of phenotypes but new sources of information such as social media data are yet to be integrated. Participant’s long-term engagement with cohort studies, as well as the potential for their social media data to be linked to other longitudinal data, may give participants a unique perspective on the acceptability of this growing research area.
Methods: Two focus groups explored participant views towards the acceptability and best practice for the collection of social media data for research purposes. Participants were drawn from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort; individuals from the index cohort of young people (N=9) and from the parent generation (N=5) took part in two separate 90-minute focus groups. The discussions were audio recorded and subjected to qualitative analysis.
Results: Participants were generally supportive of the collection of social media data to facilitate health and social research. They felt that their trust in the cohort study would encourage them to do so. Concern was expressed about the collection of data from friends or connections who had not consented. In terms of best practice for collecting the data, participants generally preferred the use of anonymous data derived from social media to be shared with researchers.
Conclusion: Cohort studies have trusting relationships with their participants; for this relationship to extend to linking their social media data with longitudinal information, procedural safeguards are needed. Participants understand the goals and potential of research integrating social media data into cohort studies, but further research is required on the acquisition of their friend’s data. The views gathered from participants provide important guidance for future work seeking to integrate social media in cohort studies.

Published in

Wellcome Open Research


Volume: 5






Open Access

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

© 2020 Di Cara NH et al.



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