It takes an online village to raise a child

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What information do you consume on social media? Perhaps a news article, a delicious recipe, funny meme or the occasional cat video? Amongst the posts in your news feed, you may see the occasional mummy blogger sharing her views of parenting and her parenting choices. How much does that influence you and your decision making? How does it impact on your experience of parenting?

USQ’s Digital Life researchers are exploring how mothers use social media to share information and inform their decisions on children’s health topics such as vaccination and immunisation.

There’s no doubt our world is changing. Mums are having children later in life and returning to work sooner after birth. A declining fertility rate contributes to the mix, creating a sense of physical social isolation as mixed-age families are changing the average neighbourhood. 

In the past, it may have been customary to join a neighbour for a cuppa whilst comparing birth stories and parenting woes, but the social landscape has changed. Today, local mothers’ groups reside part time in neighbourhoods, and part time in social media. 

Our research is investigating how mothers are using this information and how it may influence the way they make important decisions about their child’s health.

The physical ‘village’ has evolved into a digital metropolis, and mothers encounter a broad range of information in the social media feeds every day. In social media, parenting information proliferates, with mummy bloggers, ‘parenting experts’, health professionals, and even friends sharing their experiences, producing and sharing information across social media platforms.  

USQ researchers are exploring how social media has changed the nature of information-sharing amongst new mothers as well as the ways it’s created, sourced, used and interpreted.

By exploring mothers’ experience of information in social media, this research has the capacity to identify key trends and opportunities to enable government health organisations, public institutions and business to develop responsive strategies to engage with their audiences and leverage social media for service and information delivery. 

Would you risk your health on advice from Dr Google?

Not only will this support mothers in their struggles with parenthood, but it also poses enormous benefit to the community in the wider scope of impacts from negative social media exposure such as that propagated by the anti-vax movement.

Becoming a mum can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences, but also one of the loneliest. Babies don’t come with a manual and the emotional connections that mothers develop through interacting with their virtual villagers are supplementing – if not replacing – the connections they form with people in their offline communities. This impacts on their help and information seeking practices.

Australia has 16 million Facebook users.

Should health promotion agencies be looking to social media to engage with new mums by facilitating discussions with midwives or experts to allow mothers to gain qualified information beyond propaganda? 

Allied Health industry is set to change

USQ research has the potential to impact on the future of women and newborn health services in Australia. The Allied Health industry is set to change. Should mums be able to live-chat or join a facilitated forum with a post-natal nurse to seek the answers they need? How can we rethink traditional post-natal support structures to leverage the fact that new mums are typically immersed in social media? 

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Phone +61 7 4631 1738 
Email DigitalLifeLab@usq.edu.au