Exchanging health advice in a virtual community: A story of tribalization
Ioana-Alexandra Rusu 
|Abstract: The quest for information by young parents, especially mothers, is on the rise. The production of literature on how to raise children has grown exponentially over the last half century, as has the preoccupation for informing oneself on the subject (Rothbaum et al., 2008). The internet offers an immense quantity of information from sources varying in terms of quality and credibility. In the beginnings of life as a parent, people go through a time full of insecurity. Simultaneously especially new mothers are more or less isolated from their previous social lives and the need arises to compensate for this deficit through online interactions (Madge and O’Connor, 2006). One important concern is health, ranging from topics such as the best choices in pregnancy and birth, to breastfeeding, weaning and medical decisions, such as choosing a pediatrician, giving medication or vaccinating. Based on a netnographic approach, this paper tackles the question of how medical information is created and transferred in a virtual community of parents, how people select the sources they follow, and with what consequences. The main findings are that in virtual communities tribalization is easier to achieve than in real life, as people tend to find likeminded individuals and groups, while shielding themselves from contrary opinions and information, and that conflicting tribes can employ exactly the same arguments against each other.
Keywords: Virtual community, e-tribes, health advice, vaccines
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