“Sticky Baby Dust” and Emoji Social Support on Instagram during In Vitro Fertilization

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Bethany Lynn Johnson
Margaret M. Quinlan
Nathan Pope


Searching the Internet for health information is now routine; recommending and receiving medical expertise on social media platforms such as Instagram (IG) during medical treatment remains understudied. After analyzing more than 200 images on IG related to (in)fertility treatment, we employed a directed content analysis. In this manuscript, we investigate self- disclosure related to in vitro fertilization treatment on IG and the types of linguistic (e.g., written affirmations, hashtags) and paralinguistic (e.g., emoji) feedback given in response. We found users on IG received emotional (e.g., expressions of care), informational (e.g., medical and treatment advice), tangible (e.g., gifted medicine and care packages), and belonging (e.g., #ttcsisters) functions of social support in response to self-disclosure (Uchino, 2004). By concluding that social media platforms allow for unique social support exchanges, we offer theoretical and practical implications for scholars, practitioners, and patients interested in social support, supportive communication, and emoji on social media platforms.

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Author Biographies

Bethany Lynn Johnson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Bethany L. Johnson (MPhil, MA) is an instructor in history and an associate member to the graduate faculty and research affiliate faculty in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She studies how science, medicine, and health discourses are framed and reproduced by institutions and individuals from the nineteenth century to the present. She also investigates the ways medical technology alters practitioner-patient relationships, particularly for patients lacking power and agency. Her interdisciplinary research appears in journals such as Health Communication, Women & Language, Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, Women’s Reproductive Health, and Journal of Holistic Nursing.

Margaret M. Quinlan, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Margaret M. Quinlan (PhD) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies and core faculty in the interdisciplinary Health Psychology Ph.D. Program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She explores how communication creates, resists, and transforms knowledges about bodies. She critiques power structures in order to empower individuals who are marginalized inside and outside of healthcare systems. She authored approximately 40 journal articles and 17 book chapters, and co-produced three documentaries in a regional Emmy Award–winning series.


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