Ethics & Human Research
Participant Misrepresentation in Online Focus Groups: Red Flags and Proactive Measures
ABSTRACT Covid-19 public health measures prompted a significant increase in online research. This approach has several benefits over face-to-face data-collection methods, including lower cost and wider geographical reach of participants. Yet when the online data-collection instrument is a survey, there are also well-documented drawbacks of participant misrepresentation and related data-authenticity issues. However, the scholarly literature has not looked at participant misrepresentation in online focus-group empirical research. This case study communicates a concerning situation that arose during our research project: dishonest participant behavior threatened the integrity and validity of our data collected through online focus-group sessions as well as e-surveys. We describe the study context, initial red flags alerting us to the issue, subsequent investigations, and implications for research ethics, funding, and data quality. We conclude with a discussion of potential steps to safeguard future online focus-group research against similar issues.