Social Media and Health

The health communication landscape has been revolutionized by the emergence of social media platforms, requiring us to consider their impact on health-related attitudes and behaviors. HCIRB has been at the forefront of research at the intersection of social media and health, engaging with scholars and practitioners on topics such as:

  • Surveillance and descriptive research to characterize user-generated content and interactions relevant to health using innovative techniques like machine learning and natural language processing approaches, network analysis, and mixed methods content analysis.

    These studies can generate insights into:

    • Perceptions of, and attitudes towards, various health-related topics, products, policies, and events
    • Health behaviors and the social contexts in which they occur
    • Tactics used by companies to market products that increase cancer risk (e.g., tobacco, alcohol)
    • Disparities and inequities in access to quality health information
  • Leveraging social media for cancer prevention and control interventions.

    Researchers use social media for:  

    • Recruitment of participants
    • Delivery of health behavior interventions
    • Message testing
  • Ethical considerations for conducting research on social media, including using social media interactions as a data source and using social media platforms to deliver interventions.

    Key issues include:  

    • Privacy and confidentiality
    • Informed consent
    • Online manipulation
    • Unique considerations for vulnerable populations 

[for a discussion of considerations related to applying NIH guidance on human subjects research to work that uses social media data, please refer to this document]

  • Practical challenges to conducting research using social media.

    Key issues include:  

    • Changing platform policies related to researchers’ data access
    • Data quality concerns
    • Shifting regulatory landscape
  • Potential harms associated with social media use, including exposure to health misinformation (see the “Health and Science Misinformation” initiative page for additional information)

Funding Support

HCIRB has led a number of funding opportunities in the area of social media and health. The RFA initiative, Using Social Media to Understand and Address Substance Use and Addiction [RFA-CA-14-008 (R01) & RFA-CA-14-009 (R21)] was the first NIH funding opportunity focusing on social media in the context of health and addiction. The initiative attracted a large number of applications and supported the first generation of research projects exploring the role of social media in advancing scientific understanding of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use.

HCIRB has continued to support a variety of social media research projects relevant to cancer control, including those that focus on indoor tanning, tobacco product marketing, and HPV vaccination.

Notices of Funding Opportunities

Project Title Project Number Expiration Date Contacts
Innovative Approaches to Studying Cancer Communication in the New Information Ecosystem PAR-22-164 (R01 Clinical Trial Optional)
PAR-22-165 (R21 Clinical Trial Optional)
September 08, 2025 Kelly Blake
Last Updated
December 14, 2023