Volume 66, Issue 7 p. 1418-1430
RESEARCH ARTICLE

“They are always there for me”: The convergence of social support and information in an online breast cancer community

Ellen L. Rubenstein

Ellen L. Rubenstein

School of Library and Information Studies, University of Oklahoma, Room 120 Bizzell Library, 401 West Brooks Street, Norman, OK, 73019-6032

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First published: 06 November 2014
Citations: 49

Abstract

This research examines interactions among members of an online breast cancer community, focusing on how information and social support were exchanged, how these exchanges influenced health decisions, and how the community was integrated into participants' everyday lives. This article is the result of a 2-year ethnography comprising online archives analysis, participant observation, and 31 interviews. In the course of the research, the findings revealed that, not only did participants exchange valuable information and helpful social support, there was often little separation between the two, with each overlaying the other throughout most interactions. Expressions of support permeated many informational messages and at the same time served as information to participants. This article argues that social support and information were inextricably connected within participant interactions and that social support is, itself, a form of information that impacts actions and emotional experiences, contributing to participants being able to make sense of their experiences and to move forward both physically and emotionally. This research builds on work in information science that looks at the ways in which people exchange information in informal environments and extends that research by drawing on conceptualizations of social support to exhibit the connections between social support and information.