Your questions don't always have straightforward answers. It is necessary to keep in mind that there are two major components of Federal law regarding human subjects research. These are the Food and Drug Administration laws and regulations and something called 45 CFR 46, the code of Federal Regulations for Human Subjects. There are also Federal laws regarding the treatment of animals in research, which have their own CFR.
In addition, there are state laws governing human subjects research.
Starting in 1947, there were some ethical standards called the Nuremburg Code, which covered medical experimentation. The Federal Government initiated a commission in 1974 which resulted in a report called The Belmont Report, which was a statement of ethical principles for human research. Following the Belmont Report individual institutions and the the Federal Government established procedures, laws, and practices to review and approve human research.
You have to go read all these to resolve all of your questions.
The Federal regulations only apply to Federally funded research. One of the components is that researchers get to have their research approved by their local peers. So every research institution had to establish a review committee and procedures for review. Virtually every institution has decided to review all research using the same standards and procedures for all research, regardless of the funding source. They have also applied the same standards to all research done by staff they employ. There might be exceptions to both of these.
There is a lot of variation among institutions. There are explicit requirements in the 45 CFR 46 that not all institutions follow. There is also an accreditation process for institutions and their review boards.
If you now think that this is confusing, that I do not know the answer, and that you do not know the answer, then you are right.
However, it is essential to understand that the Federal government makes its review regulations only for Federally funded research, large research institutions make rules and procedures that they are certain comply, and journals that publish human research do their part to assure compliance. If a research institution does not comply then all its research funding can be suspended.
These rules and procedures than fall over into all the research that staff of institutions do and that journals publish. Nobody wants to look like they are not complying.
538 and commercial firms do research without Federal funding self publish or only write reports for clients. They are not covered either FDA regulations or 45 CFR 46. They can do what they want until someone sues them for an injury in state or Federal court. Moreover, 538 benefits from the constitutional freedom of the press.
Congress made laws about how the Federal government spends its own money and how it approves drugs and devices through the FDA.
A lot of research is just exempt anyway. The regulations tell you which. The regulations must be interpreted, of course, which isn't always easy.
Start by reading the Belmont Report and the 45 CFR 46,especially the exemptions from review.
In addition to Federal laws and institutional regulations there are also state laws that govern research. You have to find these out also.
There are some laws about calling cell phones that apply also.
"As a volunteer endeavor, I want to do online survey and education research. I am not being paid for the work, and the research participants are also not being paid. I am in the United States."
This has nothing to do with whether review and approval is required, except the volunteer part, which indicates that there is no Federal funding. Also, if you were in a different country you would have to comply with their laws.
1 "Legally, do I need to obtain IRB approval to conduct the research?" Doesn't sound like it. See 45 CFR 46.
2 "Legally, can I self-publish (e.g. blog)?" Probably, why not? Federal regulations are about conducting the research, not about publishing it, despite mistaken beliefs to the contrary.
3 "Would any reputable journal accept results obtained without any IRB approval?"
It is entirely possible. There are mechanisms in 45 CFR 46 to achieve this. One would be to make the data a public source by giving it to anyone who asks for it. Better yet, deposit it with a data archive where anyone can download it.
4 "What might the legal consequences be for not obtaining approval?"
Nothing. if approval is not required. You could be sued, but only if the complainant can show actual damages. There are criminal penalties, enforced by the Attorney General Office of Civil Rights. I don't think they have ever brought a case.
5 "If I'm not associated with any IRB, how would I get approval?"
You can pay an IRB to review and approve you research. More likely, you could ask the staff of an IRB to tell you if review and approval is necessary. A remarkable amount of research is determined to not be covered by 45 CFR 46. This is done by a staff member and/or the IRB chair. They might do this pro bono.
6 "Does it matter what my job is if I do the research in my personal time?" That depends solely on who you work for and what their employee handbook says.
7 "What about a collaborator at a university who is helping as a volunteer researcher in their personal time?" That depends solely on who they work for and what their employee handbook says.