The use of social media for health research purposes: Scoping review

Charline Bour, Adrian Ahne, Susanne Schmitz, Camille Perchoux, Coralie Dessenne, Guy Fagherazzi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: As social media are increasingly used worldwide, more and more scientists are relying on them for their health-related projects. However, social media features, methodologies, and ethical issues are unclear so far because, to our knowledge, there has been no overview of this relatively young field of research. Objective: This scoping review aimed to provide an evidence map of the different uses of social media for health research purposes, their fields of application, and their analysis methods. Methods: We followed the scoping review methodologies developed by Arksey and O'Malley and the Joanna Briggs Institute. After developing search strategies based on keywords (eg, social media, health research), comprehensive searches were conducted in the PubMed/MEDLINE and Web of Science databases. We limited the search strategies to documents written in English and published between January 1, 2005, and April 9, 2020. After removing duplicates, articles were screened at the title and abstract level and at the full text level by two independent reviewers. One reviewer extracted data, which were descriptively analyzed to map the available evidence. Results: After screening 1237 titles and abstracts and 407 full texts, 268 unique papers were included, dating from 2009 to 2020 with an average annual growth rate of 32.71% for the 2009-2019 period. Studies mainly came from the Americas (173/268, 64.6%, including 151 from the United States). Articles used machine learning or data mining techniques (60/268) to analyze the data, discussed opportunities and limitations of the use of social media for research (59/268), assessed the feasibility of recruitment strategies (45/268), or discussed ethical issues (16/268). Communicable (eg, influenza, 40/268) and then chronic (eg, cancer, 24/268) diseases were the two main areas of interest. Conclusions: Since their early days, social media have been recognized as resources with high potential for health research purposes, yet the field is still suffering from strong heterogeneity in the methodologies used, which prevents the research from being compared and generalized. For the field to be fully recognized as a valid, complementary approach to more traditional health research study designs, there is now a need for more guidance by types of applications of social media for health research, both from a methodological and an ethical perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25736
Pages (from-to)e25736
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2021


  • EHealth
  • Epidemiology
  • Health
  • Infodemiology
  • Medical
  • Publi
  • Research
  • Social media
  • Social networking
  • Text mining


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