A recent study from the College of Computing and Informatics at Drexel University investigated how and why people disclose stigmatized events, such as pregnancy loss, on social media sites such as Facebook.
The authors of the study interviewed 27 women who had recently experienced pregnancy loss and identified several factors that motivated them to disclose their loss. One of the authors of the study is Nazanin Andalibi, a doctoral candidate at the College of Computing and Informatics.
“A lot of times, when people experience distress or stigma in their lives, they want to be able to talk about it with others. However, a lot of the time they don’t do so because of all the concerns that come with talking about these kind of things,” Andalibi said. “But, if people do feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about these experiences, they might potentially benefit from the social support that follows these kind of disclosures.”
Although miscarriages occur in one in five pregnancies, 55 percent of Americans think that pregnancy loss is a rare event.
“When [pregnancy loss] does happen, people feel very isolated and alone. It comes with a lot of feelings of shame and guilt,” Andalibi said. “[This study] allows us as researchers, as well as for technology companies to start thinking about how to design social media platforms that are sensitive and inclusive of the needs of people in the margins and people who might be experiencing distress and stigma.”
The study found six factors that led people to decide to disclose their pregnancy loss on social media. These factors included disclosure serving as self-help, avoiding having conversations in person about their loss and being motivated by other people in their network experiencing similar losses.
Andalibi and her faculty mentor, Andrea Forte, define the term “network-level reciprocal disclosure” to explain disclosures that motivate others to disclose their own loss. These are social media disclosures made by a user that are broadcast toward their entire social network. These network-level reciprocal disclosures influenced others to disclose their own experiences with a stigmatized issue because they felt that they were not alone in their struggle and saw the positive responses to the post.
“This mechanic of network-level reciprocal disclosure could also be applied to explain other kinds of sensitive disclosures in other contexts. For example, talking about mental illnesses, or the recent #MeToo movement,” Andalibi said.
Other factors that influenced a person’s decision to disclose their pregnancy loss related to trying to reduce the stigma surrounding pregnancy loss, the amount of time that had passed since their loss and how social networking sites allowed them to disclose their loss to many people at once instead of having many one-on-one conversations about it.
The study provides design ideas for social networking sites to facilitate network-level reciprocal disclosures. The authors suggest enabling users to find others within their network that have experienced similar losses, or placing disclosures near the top of a news feed for users who are likely to have had similar experiences.
“Other researchers can apply this framework to other sensitive contexts, such as substance abuse,” Andalibi said of the study’s potential impact. “Another big thing would be to design computing systems that facilitate disclosures of difficult experiences and supporting interaction to form around them, in addition to computing systems that would help reduce societal stigma around difficult human experiences.”