The Secret Life of Online Moms

Goal
Understand how mothers participate online anonymously on a large scale

What is YouBeMom.com?
YouBeMom is an anonymous message board for parents. YouBeMom is both supportive (similar to sites like iVillage and BabyCenter.com) and critical (similar to sites like 4chan.com and Reddit.com). YouBeMom is unique in that it has no profile images, no usernames, no pseudonyms, and no advertisements. Posts contain a variety of shortcodes such as dd (dear daughter), ds (dear son), and dcs (dear children).

Data Sources

  • Ethnographic-style observation of YouBeMom site
  • Dataset (collected by crawling the site) of 4,828,815 posts and 47,748,793 comments posted between 2008-2012

Findings
Moms post about family and home life:

  • Over 5% of posts on YouBeMom are about children (e.g. dd, ds, dcs)
  • Almost 5%–over 400,000–of posts contain references to “dh” (which refers to “dear husband”)
  • Yet, only about .0005%–or 58–posts contain explicit references to “dear husband”

Posts about “dear husband” are more negative than other posts

  • Posts that refer to “dh” are more angry than other posts
  • Post that refer to “dh” are more negative than other posts
  • Posts about money co-occur with “dh” more than other posts

Implications

  • Moms go online anonymously to vent frustrations about family life and everyday life
  • Online sites may offer a platform for coping and providing social support
  • Even though flaming is common, YouBeMom remains popular (as do other similar anonymous parenting sites)

Why Study Moms?
Parenting support boards are immensely popular. Sites like iVillage.com and babycenter.com see millions of visitors and views every month. On these sites moms use real names or pseudonyms when they post comments to each other. Moms find a different kind of social outlet on YouBeMom than they might find in other parts of their daily lives. This gives them a place to share questions, anxieties, and even fantasies, that they might not feel comfortable sharing face-to-face or on a site like Facebook.

Why Study Anonymity?
On “real name” sites like Facebook, people may not always want to admit failures or weaknesses, or reveal what they are really thinking. People engage in face saving behavior, where we try to present our best selves to others online. Anonymity lets people be more honest, without fear or repercussion. Online disinhibition allows people to separate their online actions from their face-to-face identity.

Limitations
Posts and comments are anonymous. We do not know whether posts come from moms or not, how many people are posting, how many people are reading, and whether they are telling the truth or not in their posts. In future studies, pairing these data with qualitative interviews with YouBeMom participants would help us explain motivations for participating on this site.

For more details, please read the full paper

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