The impact of an online Facebook support group for people with multiple sclerosis on non-active users
CITATION: Steadman, J. & Pretorius, C. 2014. The impact of an online Facebook support group for people with multiple sclerosis on non-active users. African Journal of Disability, 3(1): 1-10, doi: 10.4102/ajod.v3i1.132.
The original publication is available at http://www.ajod.org
Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease and there is little research on support networks for people with MS (PwMS). More specifically, most studies on online support groups focus on those who actively participate in the group, whereas the majority of those who utilise online support groups do so in a passive way. Objectives: This study therefore aimed to explore the experiences of non-active users of an online Facebook support group for PwMS. Emphasis was placed on the facilitators and the barriers that were associated with membership to this group. Method: An exploratory qualitative research design was implemented, whereby thematic analysis was utilised to examine the ten semi-structured interviews that were conducted. Results: Several facilitators were acquired through the online support group; namely emotional support (constant source of support, exposure to negative aspects of the disease), informational support (group as a source of knowledge, quality of information) and social companionship (place of belonging). Some barriers were also identified; namely emotional support (emotions lost online, response to messages, exposure to negative aspects of the disease), informational support (information posted on the group, misuse of group) and social companionship (non-active status) Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that the non-active members of the online support group for PwMS have valid reasons for their non-active membership status. More important, the findings suggest that the online Facebook support group provided the group members with an important support network in the form of emotional support, informational support and social companionship, despite their non-active membership status or the barriers that have been identified.