Catch 22: The Paradox of Social Media Affordances and Stigmatized Online Support Groups

Daphna Yeshua-Katz, Ylva Hård af Segerstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study highlights the challenges of computer-mediated communication for vulnerable individuals and groups, by studying boundary work in stigmatized communities online. Five stigmatized online communities with different affordances were studied: (1) “pro-ana” blogs; (2) an infertility discussion board; (3) a Facebook group for bereaved parents; and (4) two WhatsApp groups for Israeli veterans of war with post-traumatic stress disorder. In-depth interviews with members and administrators (n = 66) revealed that social media affordances such as low anonymity and high visibility may marginalize those living with stigma. While research literature applauds social media for allowing the formation and maintenance of social capital, our study highlights the paradox caused by these very same affordances. To offer safe and functioning environments of support, the communities must guard against impostors whose presence threatens their safe havens. Simultaneously, this may make these groups inaccessible to those who truly need support and remove such groups from the public eye.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • affordances
  • boundary work
  • social media
  • social support
  • stigma

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications


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