LGBTQ Persons’ Pregnancy Loss Disclosures to Known Ties on Social Media: Disclosure Decisions & Ideal Disclosure Environments

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This blog post summarizes a paper about LGBTQ people’s (non)disclosure of their pregnancy loss experience on social media to be presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in May 2021.

Note: This post includes content about pregnancy loss.

Just try again. While possibly well-intentioned, common phrases like this can be hurtful responses to disclosures of pregnancy loss both offline and online. For many LGBTQ people, “just trying again” involves significant sacrifices of time, energy, and money. Furthermore, they may experience homophobia and transphobia from peers, family, and medical practitioners alike throughout their pregnancy journey and ultimate loss.

Comments like “just try again” are one of many barriers to disclosure for LGBTQ people weighing the decision of whether or not to share their stigmatized experience to their network on social media platforms like Facebook.

What are other factors that shape LGBTQ people’s pregnancy loss disclosures to others they know (e.g., family, friends, colleagues) via social media? What environments do LGBTQ people feel would promote safe and beneficial disclosures of loss? How can technology design support safe and beneficial disclosures for LGBTQ persons after a loss? To answer these questions, this paper draws on interviews with LGBTQ people in the US who had experienced a pregnancy loss directly or indirectly (i.e., a partner directly experienced the loss) and use social media. While past work has focused on cisgender and straight women’s pregnancy loss disclosures on social media, this work focuses on the pregnancy loss context for those experiencing what is called intersectional stigma (Turan et al., 2019), or the intersection of multiple stigmatized identities/experiences, since both the LGBTQ identity and the pregnancy loss experience can carry stigma with them.

Overall, this work revealed several factors influencing (non)disclosure decisions for individuals experiencing intersectional stigma. These factors are self-related, audience-related, network-related, societal, and platform and affordance-related. Below are descriptions of the most salient factors along with representative quotes from participants.

Audience-related factors relate to the control of personal information and concerns over audience reactions and needs.

“…All of those questions are intrusive and inappropriate and mentioning a loss brings up all of the same questions about how’d you get pregnant in the first place? Where’d you get the sperm?”

Societal factors relate to broader perceptions of societal stigma and the desire to erode stigma and bring awareness to stigmatized identities and experiences.

“I feel like my decision to want to share was associated with my identity as a queer person… Because I want people to be aware. Oh it’s not like we can accidentally get pregnant or we just whatever, have sex and then it happens, I feel like there’s a lot of intentionality and a lot of hardship that queer couples go through to conceive.”

Platform and affordance-related factors relate to specific features and affordances of social media platforms, which include but are not limited to anonymity, asynchronicity, and disclosure norms on a given platform.

“Knowing that anyone could access that, even though they probably wouldn’t? Like I think about people Googling me if I’m looking for a new job or something. And I have my Facebook setting set to private, but I still feel like that kind of stuff can get out there.”

Additionally, participants shared with us what features of social media platforms would make them feel safe enough to disclose their experience with pregnancy loss. These included the following:

  • Many participants revealed that they would like the ability to selectively disclose to subsets of their network. While features exist to support this currently (e.g., Facebook’s list feature), there is evidence to suggest that this feature is underutilized and potentially laborious.
  • Participants shared that they would like platforms to play a role in educating and advising audience members about pregnancy loss so that people who experience it can share without being subject to ignorant responses.
  • Participants desired a shift in norms on prominent social media platforms, away from what they perceived to be inauthentic disclosures of only positive life experiences to authentic disclosures of both positive and negative experiences.

Speaking about their desire for platforms to take a more active role in the education of its members, one participant said:

“I think not having to be the teacher every single time I talk about any of this stuff would have made my experience easier… I think that that’s pretty much the biggest thing that would have made any of this easier, was just having people … not having to explain and teach people about my grief, but just being able to express it.”

What does this mean for technology design? In the paper we share four design features that may be implemented on identified/non-anonymous social media platforms to promote beneficial disclosures for those experiencing intersectional stigma, informed by participants’ ideas. We focus on promoting selective disclosure, promoting education, allowing a proxy to moderate responses to a disclosure, and promoting disclosures algorithmically. Some of these require more iteration given the potential downsides (of artificial intelligence detection of disclosures, namely), but even these speculative designs can provide a starting point that can be useful to designers who want to support communities experiencing stigma and distress, and foster more inclusive and compassionate social media spaces.

For questions or comments about this study please email the lead author Cassidy Pyle at cpyle [at] umich [dot] edu.

Citation:

Cassidy Pyle, Lee Roosevelt, Ashley Lacombe-Duncan, Nazanin Andalibi. 2021. LGBTQ Persons’ Pregnancy Loss Disclosures to Known Ties on Social Media: Disclosure Decisions & Ideal Disclosure Environments. https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445331

Read the full paper here:

https://058c5259-5950-41d9-86f1-ba6d4bff27df.filesusr.com/ugd/9c7a2b_b1e48eac33fb4a4e80cdb1f21fe060c3.pdf

Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan School of Information. Interested in social media, disclosure, marginality, stigma, & social support.