Support, socialise and advocate: an exploration of the stated purpose of Facebook autism groups

Abel, Susan and Machin, Tanya and Brownlow, Charlotte (2019) Support, socialise and advocate: an exploration of the stated purpose of Facebook autism groups. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 61. pp. 10-21. ISSN 1750-9467


With a rapidly growing global population of just over two billion users, Facebook has changed the way many people engage with each other. Whilst the autism community—autistic people, their families and carers, and their broader support network—are represented in this population there is limited research about how or why this community intends to use Facebook to connect and communicate. This exploratory study aimed to characterise the stated purposes of Facebook groups related to autism and their target membership. The terms autism, Asperger, ASD, Aspie, and wrong planet were used to search for Facebook groups. Using a content analysis, the group name, description, privacy status and member count of 500 autism groups on Facebook were examined. The groups had a combined membership of 905,655 English-speaking users and were created for support (60.4%), social companionship (16.4%), advocacy (15.8%), treatments (5.6%), sales (1.0%) and fundraising (0.8%). Most of the groups had a target membership of parents and families (57.4%), autistic people (23.4%), and women (10.4%). Many groups specified group etiquette (36.4%), or the geographic location of members (42.8%). Of the groups targeting autistic people, 77.8% used identity-first language, while 58.2% of groups targeting parents and families used person-first language. Separate and shared neuro-spaces appear to be negotiated within these Facebook groups and this could stimulate critical discussion around the autism community’s engagement with social media. These Facebook groups are designed to provide support to autistic people and their families and to provide social networking opportunities for autistic people.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Published version cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Psychology and Counselling
Date Deposited: 23 May 2019 05:03
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2019 06:10
Uncontrolled Keywords: autism; ASD; social support; Facebook groups
Fields of Research : 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170113 Social and Community Psychology
17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170102 Developmental Psychology and Ageing
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 95 Cultural Understanding > 9502 Communication > 950204 The Media
Identification Number or DOI: 10.1016/j.rasd.2019.01.009

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