Sociability and Support in Online Eating Disorder Communities: Evidence from Personal Networks
Posted: 5 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 3, 2013
We study how people select their social support ties from their broader personal networks, taking into account the interplay of web-based and face-to-face interactions. Focus is on users of websites, blogs and forums on eating disorders, often dubbed 'pro-ana' and 'pro-mia'. Despite widespread fears that they contribute to maintaining and spreading these disorders, these sites may also channel mutual assistance, advice, and psychological and emotional support, with ultimate benefits for health.
We use data from an online survey of users of French- and English-language ‘ana-mia’ websites, providing information on the composition and structure of their personal networks both online and face-to-face, and their health-related support networks, for two types of health issues. We find that different health-related needs call for different types of support, which can be accessed from different parts of one’s personal network; specifically, online groups provide distinctive sources of help. To an extent, participation in web-based eating disorder communities compensates for perceived shortcomings in healthcare services, though members do not overwhelmingly reject standard health systems and norms. Web-based groups thus appear as an important element in the understanding of social support, and a potential resource for enhanced public health services provision.
Keywords: Personal networks, online social networks, social support, social circles, pro-ana and pro-mia websites, eating disorders
JEL Classification: C83, D85, I12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation