Internet-mediated research in the wake of Covid-19: Dealing with disclosure of serious risk of harm

Natalie Edelman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In response to the Covid-19 pandemic many studies are using internet-mediated research (IMR) methods. However, IMR guidance omits the issue of disclosure of serious risk of harm to self or others (DSRHSO). Studies involving face-to-face data collection on sensitive topics or with participants experiencing high adversity, often stipulate that participant confidentiality be broken in the face of DSRHSO. In IMR, participation may have been anonymous, either as part of a research strategy or because participants have chosen a pseudonym. Lack of valid contact details and other identifiers can also make tracing participants—to invoke safeguarding procedures such as social services involvement—more difficult.
    The need for guidance is also pressing as the pandemic impacts emotional and psychological well-being, so that DSRHSO may be more likely, even when researching non-sensitive topics. Those suffering abuse or severe mental illness may also take the opportunity afforded by research participation to DSRHSO in order to access help, but may still need guidance or prompts to provide contact details. Lack of existing guidance likely reflects that studies on sensitive topics are recommended for face-to-face data collection precisely because researchers have low control over risks in online settings.
    Prioritising participant safety (by requiring participant identifiers so that confidentiality can be broken if needed) may reduce data validity and participation by the most vulnerable. Nonetheless, the current pandemic presents both an opportunity and a need to establish IMR guidance on handling DSRHSO. In the post-pandemic era, such guidance may also facilitate safe online participation by those who are unable to participate in face-to-face data collection for reasons such as domestic abuse, care and work responsibilities or stigmatisation fears. Planned production of DSRHSO guidance will take an open, transparent and inter-disciplinary approach.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number426
    Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2020

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


    • ethics
    • risk of harm
    • Covid-19
    • internet-mediated
    • disclosure


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