Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communications and Arts / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications
Australian Research Council
ARC Number : LP0990807
Problem: This paper addresses the implications of working with vulnerable groups in the context of an online health community when members move from co-presence online to co-presence offline. Theoretical Approach: The case study presented in this paper challenges the expectation that self-revelations are usually more common in online environments because of the anonymity and comfort experienced there. Methodology: Taking as its example the events in a research project designed to investigate the relative features of online communities and social network sites by using a ‘netnographic’ approach, this paper examines the introduction of live chat sessions with a view to building social and emotional involvement in community members who had been, to that point, somewhat disengaged. Findings: On the fourth live chat, shortly before Christmas, one community member suggested that they meet for a meal, effectively moving the co-presence from the online community into the offline world. This duly occurred the following week, but the situation did not develop as the research team members had envisioned and instead they found themselves dealing with a member who, in person, was revealed to be feeling suicidal. Conclusion: Addressing the case study in terms of the implications of co-presence and self-revelation in research settings, this paper goes on to describe the changes in policy and process instigated by the support organisation to prepare for other possible events of this nature.