University of Oulu

Noora Hirvonen, Alisa Tirroniemi, Terttu Kortelainen, (2019) "The cognitive authority of user-generated health information in an online forum for girls and young women", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 Issue: 1, pp.78-98,

The cognitive authority of user-generated health information in an online forum for girls and young women

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Author: Hirvonen, Noora1; Tirroniemi, Alisa1; Kortelainen, Terttu1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.8 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Emerald, 2018
Publish Date: 2018-11-22


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of one particular online discussion forum as a potentially authoritative health information source for its users. The concept of cognitive authority is used as a starting point for understanding information evaluation in this context. The focus is placed on the types of information users seek for from this forum, the ways they assess the credibility of information obtained, and their views on the impact of this information.

Design/methodology/approach: The empirical data were collected with a questionnaire survey from the users of a Finnish online forum for girls and young women (n=290). The data were analyzed qualitatively with content analytic techniques and quantitatively by using descriptive analysis.

Findings: The forum was found to offer girls and young women the possibility to receive health information from peers. It was viewed as an appropriate source for experiential rather than factual health information and used to find information on sexuality, bodily functions and diets, for example. Author-related cues, argumentation and tone, veracity and verification were recognized as means to evaluate information credibility. Credibility evaluation was found to be linked with conceptions of the forum and the type of information sought. A share of the respondents recognized the information obtained to have influence on their thinking or behavior.

Originality/value: Based on the findings, it can be argued that the members of the online forum — individually or collectively — can act as cognitive authorities for other users. The findings cannot be generalized beyond this online forum, to Finnish girls or young women, or even the users of the online forum. However, they provide insights into the ways young people evaluate user-generated information in a particular online setting and domain of knowledge and as such contribute to research on cognitive authority, credibility evaluation and information literacy.

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Series: Journal of documentation
ISSN: 0022-0418
ISSN-E: 1758-7379
ISSN-L: 0022-0418
Volume: 75
Issue: 1
Pages: 78 - 98
DOI: 10.1108/JD-05-2018-0083
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 518 Media and communications
Funding: The study was funded by the Academy of Finland (Grant No. 299112).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 299112
Detailed Information: 299112 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © Emerald Publishing Limited 2018. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. Licensed re-use rights only. Published in this repository with the kind permission of the publisher.