University of Oulu

Hirvonen, N. (2022), "Nameless strangers, similar others: the affordances of a young people's anonymous online forum for health information practices", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 78 No. 7, pp. 506-527.

Nameless strangers, similar others : the affordances of a young people’s anonymous online forum for health information practices

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Author: Hirvonen, Noora1
Organizations: 1Information Studies, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 3.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Emerald, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-12-29


Purpose: The study examines how the technical features and associated social practices of an anonymous, text-based online forum intended for young people make it a unique platform for acquiring and sharing health information among peers.

Design/methodology/approach: The features and content of a young people’s section of a popular Finnish discussion forum were examined with a focus on health-related threads. Observational notes and thread content were analysed with a focus on the forum’s affordances for health information practices.

Findings: The findings indicate that the forum’s affordances including anonymity, persistence, searchability, cohesion and tolerance enabled the pooling of peer experiences, opinions and experience-based advice on health, rather than sharing factual information or embracing reciprocal discussion. As such, instead of competing for a cognitive authority position with medical authorities or offering emotional support like tight online support communities, the anonymous forum served as a platform for young people to gain information on others’ experiences and opinions on sensitive, mundane and disnormative health issues and for reflecting their own lived experiences to those of others.

Originality/value: The study is original in its approach to examining the affordances of an online platform for health information practices. It helps in understanding young people’s ways of using different resources to meet their diverse health information needs and the value of gaining access to experiential health information.

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Series: Journal of documentation
ISSN: 0022-0418
ISSN-E: 1758-7379
ISSN-L: 0022-0418
Volume: 78
Issue: 7
Pages: 506 - 527
DOI: 10.1108/JD-09-2021-0192
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 518 Media and communications
520 Other social sciences
616 Other humanities
Funding: The study was funded by the Academy of Finland (Grant No. 299112) and is connected to the GenZ project, supported by the Academy of Finland (Profi4 318930) and the University of Oulu.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 299112
Detailed Information: 299112 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: Copyright © 2022, Noora Hirvonen. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at