Social media platforms are useful for recruiting hard-to-reach populations, such as caregivers of children with cancer, for research. However, there are unique ethical considerations in using social media.
The aim of the study was to describe the methods used to recruit hard-to-reach caregivers (parents of children with cancer) for research and related ethical considerations.
We used The Belmont Report tenets (respect for persons, beneficence, and justice) as a guiding framework to identify issues relevant to social media recruitment of hard-to-reach populations and to describe how we addressed these issues in our study.
We engaged leaders of two online communities that offer peer support for caregivers of children with cancer to help with recruitment to our study on financial effect of pediatric cancer. We identified issues in using social media for recruiting hard-to-reach populations in alignment with The Belmont Report, including risk for subject selection bias, privacy rights, protecting identity of participants, data security issues, and access to research. We addressed issues by deliberate study design decisions and engagement with online community advocates.
Using social media to recruit hard-to-reach populations may be a successful way to engage them in research. Although researchers may remain compliant with the institutional review board of their facilities and are faithful to the tenets of The Belmont Report, unanticipated ethical issues may arise directly or indirectly as a result of using social media. This article identifies these issues and provides suggestions for dealing with them.