Guidelines for Online Surveys and Social Media

If you are conducting an online survey, please create your survey in the online platform (please use Pacific University's subscription to Qualtrics) prior to submitting your proposal to the IRB. When you submit your proposal, please include (a) a link to the live survey and (b) a PDF copy of the online survey for the IRB files. The IRB must be able to verify that the informed consent language and process are presented appropriately in the online environment. NOTE: A Faculty Member, not a student, must first create the survey in Qualtrics in order for you to be able to provide the IRB with a live link to your survey for review. 

Note about PDFs of Online Surveys: The Goal for the PDF is for the IRB to be able to review how the participant will be interacting with the survey, so it's important to see the logic that will lead the user through the survey (for instance if they no not meet criteria and are sent out of the survey).

If you are conducting an online survey, please review these guidelines and ensure that:

  • If your survey is intended to be anonymous, your survey tool is not collecting Internet Protocol (IP) information from respondents.
  • You clearly indicate in your proposal who has access to the account on which the survey instrument is hosted (this would be the research team). 
  • If an incentive (e.g., gift card drawing) is used with an otherwise anonymous survey, that participant contact information is gathered outside of the primary data collection instrument (for example, the survey could end and then link to a a second survey where you provide a place for them to input their email and you explain that their email will be kept confidential). 

Further elaboration on this issues is provided below.

Anonymity in Online Survey Research

It is important to understand when a survey is truly anonymous and when it is confidential. In order for participation in an online survey to be considered truly anonymous, these items must be true:

  • The survey tool is configured to not collection IP address information from participants
  • No individually identifiable information (e.g., name, birth date, identification numbers, mailing address, email address, etc.) is being collected as part of the survey instrument or a related prize drawing.
  • No combination of indirect identifiers is being collected which would reasonably allow the investigator or anyone else to identify participants.

If, however, you choose to request participants' names, email addresses, or other contact information so that they may be entered into an optional prize drawing, your survey will not be considered anonymous by the IRB. If you collect this information, you should do so outside of your survey instrument. The best practice in this instance is to set up a second survey instrument to collect the contact information, and to link from your data collection survey to the optional drawing survey. If you do this, you should state in your IRB proposal and in the informed consent language that:

Data collected is anonymous and cannot be associated with you, but participation in this study will be confidential, not anonymous, if you choose to provide your contact information for the purposes of entering the optional drawing. You may be required to complete a form providing information in order to receive the award/prize/gift card.

Access to Online Survey Accounts

A critically important issue has come to the IRB's attention regarding the security of group online survey accounts (e.g., accounts belonging to the university, some programs and departments) and, as a result, now requires all University-supported research projects utilizing an online survey method to use Qualtrics

The IRB also suggests, when applicable, that investigators consider conducting an anonymous (see above) survey, which would help alleviate concerns about participant privacy, as no identifiable information will be gathered. If your survey is not anonymous, you will need to disclose that information transmitted via the internet cannot be guaranteed to be secure.

Social Media

Broadly, social media is an internet-based mode of communication that allows users to interact with the medium (typically a website) and/or users of the medium. Social media encompasses social networking (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), social photo and video platforms (e.g. Shutterfly and YouTube), and interactive websites. Social media also includes text messages, podcasts (in which the PI promotes the research project), etc. If you are unsure whether or not a certain form of communication constitutes recruitment, contact the IRB. All social media communications are subject to IRB review, specifically in relation to recruitment, though there are additional instances in which the IRB would need to review social media use. Please include scripts of all social media communications in your proposal. Be sure to list Social Media on the Recruitment Materials List in the IRB Submission Guidance document and include details about privacy measures in place for each of the sites.