Views on social media and its linkage to longitudinal data from two generations of a UK cohort study

Nina Di Cara, Andrew W Boyd, Alastair Tanner, Tarek Al Baghal, Lisa Calderwood, Luke S Sloan, Oliver S P Davis, Claire M A Haworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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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, could provide novel advances but may also give participants a unique perspective on the acceptability of this growing research area.

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.

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.

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
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalWellcome Open Research
Issue number44
Early online date12 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2020

Structured keywords

  • Mental Health Data Science
  • Physical and Mental Health


  • social media
  • data linkage
  • cohort study
  • social licence
  • acceptability


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