Supporting Fathers and Fatherhood on Social Media Sites

A lot of academic research, especially in computing fields, has focused on mothers and motherhood recently. However, little research has explored how fathers use social media related to fatherhood. This study addresses that gap. We interviewed 37 fathers about their use of social media as it relates to their roles as fathers.

Drawing on prior work on the social construction of fatherhood and determinants of involved fathers, we find that fathers use social media to:

  • document and archive fatherhood
  • learn how to be a father
  • access social support

They also go online to support diverse and sometimes stigmatized needs, including

  • single fathers’ use of Reddit where they can be anonymous instead of Facebook where going through a divorce might be stigmatized
  • fathers raised by single mothers’ search for role models online because they did not feel like they had such role models growing up
  • stay-at-home fathers’ use of father blogs to find other like-minded fathers because they felt isolated, and sometimes even unwelcome, if surrounded by mostly stay-at-home-mothers

Advocating for Fathers
We argue that we are at a critical juncture for studying and promoting fatherhood. Fathers’ roles have steadily evolved over time from moral mentor and breadwinner to caregiver and emotional supporter. Though still imbalanced with mothers, fathers take on more childcare and household responsibilities than they used to. Problematically, the focus on mothers and motherhood in academic research could inadvertently perpetuate the unequal focus on mothers as primary caregivers—undercutting some of the very premises motherhood research is looking to address.

Judgment and Stigma
Fathers were sensitive about sharing too much information online that might violate their children’s privacy. They were also hesitant to post information that might subject them to stigma and judgment from other parents, including topics like sleep training and vaccines. Fathers were especially sensitive about sharing information about their young children online. They engaged in protective behaviors like searching for their child’s name on Google to see if pictures of their child might come up.

Future Steps
We consider some ideas about how online platforms might be designed to better support fathers:

  • Provide more online sites and communities to that support fathers engaging in fatherhood discussions and activities (akin to the many sites for mothers already available)
  • Support anonymity or pseudonymity in online father communities to create a safe space for sharing about fatherhood online (as well as support small groups of trusted fathers on sites like Facebook)
  • Increase visibility of audience norms and expectations so that fathers can post parenting content to targeted audiences

Data Sources

  • Interviews with 37 fathers recruited through father mailing lists, father offline groups, father online groups, Twitter, Facebook, Craigslist
  • The sample is a convenience sample
  • Interviews were conducted from October 2013-February 2014

Limitations
This study’s sample contained only fathers. Furthermore, participants all were currently or had previously been married to a person of the opposite gender. We did not ask participants their household incomes and do not know how representative the results are to all income ranges.

This research is published in CHI 2015. For more details, please read the full paper.

The interview protocol for this study is available: Interview Protocol.

Ammari, T. and Schoenebeck, S.Y. (2015). “Understanding and Supporting Fathers and Fatherhood on Social Media Sites.” In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). Seoul, Korea. April 18-23, 2015.

This research was approved by University of Michigan’s Institutional Review Board HUM00080547.

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