A Sisterhood of Sorts
Abstract: This study shows how a group of women with infertility issues find friendship, emotional support, and information using the anonymous environment of one virtual community. Through interviews with 11 women and an analysis of online journals and forum postings, the case study looks at how women use the anonymous and non- temporal nature of the Internet to be empathetic and supportive, and further explores how that empathy helps women feel less isolated and ostracized. Online support groups fill a void that traditional face-to-face interaction and doctor-patient relationships can not fulfill by providing women emotional and social support from their peers. This support is strengthened by the ability for women to choose how much or how little they disclose about themselves, thus giving a feeling of anonymity. Using Lievrouw’s Social Shaping of Technology theory as a framework, it was found that women are shaping the technology they use to discuss infertility by creating text-friendly language and online methods of showing support. In shaping this technology to fit their needs, women adapt the “strong-tie” social networking behavior usually reserved for family and friends to better understand strangers online. Disadvantages to the technology are its ever-changing makeup of users and the difficulty in finding the veracity of medical advice. Results from this study show healthcare providers that social media is a valuable tool in understanding the psychological effects of fertility treatments, with further research made into how users deal with the changing population of users and how this technology is used after a person is able to become pregnant.
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