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We used an internet-based survey platform to conduct a cross-sectional survey regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ + population in the United States. While this method of data collection was quick and inexpensive, the data collected required extensive cleaning due to the infiltration of bots. Based on this experience, we provide recommendations for ensuring data integrity. Recruitment conducted between May 7 and 8, 2020 resulted in an initial sample of 1251 responses. The Qualtrics survey was disseminated via social media and professional association listservs. After noticing data discrepancies, research staff developed a rigorous data cleaning protocol. A second wave of recruitment was conducted on June 11–12, 2020 using the original recruitment methods. The five-step data cleaning protocol led to the removal of 773 (61.8%) surveys from the initial dataset, resulting in a sample of 478 participants in the first wave of data collection. The protocol led to the removal of 46 (31.9%) surveys from the second two-day wave of data collection, resulting in a sample of 98 participants in the second wave of data collection. After verifying the two-day pilot process was effective at screening for bots, the survey was reopened for a third wave of data collection resulting in a total of 709 responses, which were identified as an additional 514 (72.5%) valid participants and led to the removal of an additional 194 (27.4%) possible bots. The final analytic sample consists of 1090 participants. Although a useful and efficient research tool, especially among hard-to-reach populations, internet-based research is vulnerable to bots and mischievous responders, despite survey platforms’ built-in protections. Beyond the depletion of research funds, bot infiltration threatens data integrity and may disproportionately harm research with marginalized populations. Based on our experience, we recommend the use of strategies such as qualitative questions, duplicate demographic questions, and incentive raffles to reduce likelihood of mischievous respondents. These protections can be undertaken to ensure data integrity and facilitate research on vulnerable populations.


This work was originally published in Quality & Quantity, available at

This article is made available via the PMC Open Access Subset for unrestricted research re-use and secondary analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.


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