Using nicknames, pseudonyms and avatars on HeartNET: A snapshot of an online health support community.
Australian and New Zealand Communication Association
Education and Arts
Communication & Arts/Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications
Cardiovascular disease remains one of the leading causes of death and long-term disability for the ageing Australian population. During recovery from a heart event, many people seek an alternative to traditional support groups and look to the Internet and World Wide Web to establish a connection with others who have had a similar experience. HeartNET provides just such an alternative support structure for anyone affected by heart disease. One issue faced by members of any online support community is whether to remain anonymous by using pseudonyms, nicknames or avatars or whether to accept a certain level of risk, usually in contravention of the site’s guidelines, and reveal personal information in what is really the public domain The authors found that when nicknames and avatars are used they can become part of the member’s persona and facilitate emotional recognition as names do, thus becoming a way for others to make contact. Using the same nickname over time can facilitate authentic exchanges. Although the use of pseudonyms is recommended as a way of protecting anonymity, the authors’ research of HeartNET reveals that ethical issues for both the moderator and participants continually arise, and are not easily resolved.
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