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J Med Internet Res. 2019 Aug 13;21(8):e13544. doi: 10.2196/13544.

Using Facebook for Qualitative Research: A Brief Primer.

Franz D1, Marsh HE1,2, Chen JI1,2, Teo AR1,2,3.

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Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care, Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System, Department of Veterans Affairs, Portland, OR, United States.
Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, United States.
School of Public Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University, Portland, OR, United States.


As Facebook continues to grow its number of active users, the potential to harness data generated by Facebook users also grows. As much of Facebook users' activity consists of creating (and commenting on) written posts, the potential use of text data for research is enormous. However, conducting a content analysis of text from Facebook users requires adaptation of research methods used for more traditional sources of qualitative data. Furthermore, best practice guidelines to assist researchers interested in conducting qualitative studies using data derived from Facebook are lacking. The purpose of this primer was to identify opportunities, as well as potential pitfalls, of conducting qualitative research with Facebook users and their activity on Facebook and provide potential options to address each of these issues. We begin with an overview of information obtained from a literature review of 23 studies published between 2011 and 2018 and our own research experience to summarize current approaches to conducting qualitative health research using data obtained from Facebook users. We then identify potential strategies to address limitations related to current approaches and propose 5 key considerations for the collection, organization, and analysis of text data from Facebook. Finally, we consider ethical issues around the use and protection of Facebook data obtained from research participants. In this primer, we have identified several key considerations that should aid health researchers in the planning and execution of qualitative studies involving content analysis of text data from Facebook users.

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