• Journal Article

Stigma's Effect on Social Interaction and Social Media Activity


Boudewyns, V., Himelboim, I., Hansen, D., & Southwell, B. G. (2015). Stigma's Effect on Social Interaction and Social Media Activity. Journal of Health Communication, 20(11), 1337-1345. DOI: 10.1080/10810730.2015.1018604, 10.1080/10810730.2015.1018604


Stigmatized topics, such as HIV/STD, likely constrain related information sharing in ways that should be apparent in social interactions both on and off the Internet. Specifically, the authors predicted that the more people perceive an issue as stigmatized, the less likely they are to talk about the issue both privately (with sexual partners and peers) and publicly (on Twitter). Study 1 tested the effect of stigma on conversations at the individual level: The authors asked a group of participants (N = 138) about perceived STD-testing stigma, interactions with a sexual partner, and conversations with peers about STD testing. Study 2 assessed whether health conditions, in the aggregate, were less likely to generate social media activity as a function of current stigmatization. Using 259,758 archived Twitter posts mentioning 13 medical conditions, the authors tested whether level of stigma predicted the volume of relevant social media conversation, controlling for each condition's amount of advocacy and Google search popularity from a user's perspective. Findings supported our hypotheses. Individuals who reported perceiving a given health conditions in more stigmatic ways also reported interacting less with others about that topic; Twitter results showed a similar pattern. Results also suggest a more complex story of influence, as funding from the National Institutes of Health (i.e., each conditions amount of advocacy) associated with the examined health conditions also predicted Twitter activity. Overall, these results indicated that stigma had a similar, dampening effect on face-to-face and Twitter interactions. Findings hold theoretical and practical implications, which are discussed