The aim of this paper is to present a sampling method using virtual networks to study “hard‐to‐reach” populations. In the ambit of social research, the use of new technologies is still questioned because the selection bias is an obstacle to carry on scientific research on the Internet. In this regard, the authors' hypothesis is that the use of social networking sites (Web 2.0) can be effective for the study of “hard‐to‐reach” populations. The main advantages of this technique are that it can expand the geographical scope and facilitates the identification of individuals with barriers to access. Therefore, the use of virtual networks in non‐probabilistic samples can increase the sample size and its representativeness.
To test this hypothesis, a virtual method was designed using Facebook to identify Argentinean immigrant entrepreneurs in Spain (214 cases). A characteristic of this population is that some individuals are administratively invisible in national statistics because they have double nationality (non‐EU and EU). The use of virtual sampling was combined with an online questionnaire as a complementary tool for Web 2.0 research in behavioural sciences.
The number of cases detected by Facebook and the virtual response rate is higher than traditional snowball technique. The explanation is that people increase their level of confidence because the researcher shows his personal information (Facebook's profile) and also participates in their groups of interest (Facebook's groups). Moreover, the online questionnaires administration allows the quality of the information to be controlled and avoids duplication of cases.
The present article is the first that uses Facebook as an instrument to study immigrants. Therefore its adoption represents a great challenge in the social research field because there are many barriers of access and search. It also proposes a novel mix of traditional methodologies updated with the use of new virtual possibilities of studying hard to reach populations, especially in areas of social research where the contributions of these methods are less developed.
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