Challenges facing online research: Experiences from research concerning cyber-victimisation of people with disabilities

Zhraa A. Alhaboby, James Barnes, Hala Evans, Emma Short


The victimisation of people living with disabilities and chronic conditions is a documented phenomenon. It ranges from harassment incidents to disability hate crimes, and causes physical, mental and psychosocial consequences. The Internet has further reshaped this phenomenon which lead to “cyber-victimisation” experiences, with no less impact upon victims. This methodology paper focuses mainly on the challenges and implications of using online methods in a UK-based study exploring the impact of cyber-victimisation on people coping with disabilities and chronic conditions. Mixed-method design was adopted via an online-survey followed by in-depth interviewing of victims. Online recruitment was through victim-support groups, patient-support groups, and social media. Out of 80 organisations and charities approached, 51(63.8%) gatekeepers helped to reach participants. Recruitment and data collection process was challenged by four overarching themes: 1) social identity in online support groups, 2) the role of online gatekeepers, 3) the contradictory role of social media, and 4) promoting inclusivity. These challenges were theorised from the perspective of the Social Identity Theory. Representing self as a victim and/or a disabled-person had its implications on virtual groups’ membership, social media use, gatekeepers’ decisions and subsequent participation. Some identity aspects were highlighted as positive points to improve engagement with research. In conclusion, the Internet has aggravated the vulnerability of people with disabilities, but it also has a huge potential in researching sensitive topics with this group. Future research in the cyberspace should acknowledge the challenges of online identities of disabled victimised people, and focus on positive identity aspects to facilitate the research process and encourage collaborative participation at early stages of research.

Bibliographic citation

Alhaboby, Z., Barnes, J., Evans, H., & Short, E. (2017). Challenges facing online research: Experiences from research concerning cyber-victimisation of people with disabilities. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 11(1), article 8. doi:

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