Drexel researchers observed women who announced pregnancy losses on Facebook to study why and how people use social media to share their traumatic experiences.

_Nazanin Andalibi

Andalibi is a doctoral candidate in information studies in the College of Computing & Informatics.

_Andrea Forte

Forte is an assistant professor in The iSchool at Drexel. Her work tackles questions about human-computer interaction, computer-supported cooperative work, online communities and learning sciences.

An examination of how and why women decide to disclose pregnancy loss on Facebook — led by Drexel researchers who study human relationships with social network sites — has shed light on how social media platforms make it easier for people to share their painful, personal and often stigmatized stories.

“While many use Facebook to largely talk about happy and light topics and believe that to be the expected norm on this platform, some people make complicated decisions to talk about things that are not all that happy,” says Nazanin Andalibi, a graduate of Drexel’s College of Computing & Informatics and lead author of the study.

Andalibi and co-author Andrea Forte, an associate professor in the College of Computing & Informatics, chose to focus on pregnancy loss disclosures because 1 in 5 pregnancies in the United States lead to a pregnancy loss, yet most people — approximately 55 percent — still think it’s a rare occurrence.

One motivation for women to turn to social media, according to the research, is the benefit of sharing with a large network of people. Many women found it to be a highly efficient way of sharing a painful story once instead of repeating it over and over again in individual conversations. This also makes it easier for others to express support or share a similar story.

The researchers call this behavior “Network-Level Reciprocal Disclosures.” They suggest that by seeing others post, people knew and felt pregnancy loss was not unique to them.

This behavior is at the heart of the sexual assault awareness movement that organically coalesced on social media via the hashtag #MeToo.